The state of Virginia has specific rules and guidelines surrounding ending a lease agreement before it expires. It's both the tenant's and landlord's duty to meet those guidelines in order to avoid legal problems.
However, what happens when Virginia tenants try to end the lease early? There are plenty of options for both parties in case this happens. As long as you understand Virginia's landlord-tenant law and make all the provisions you need, you will get the compensation you deserve if a tenant tries to break a lease.
The following page will cover everything a rental property owner should know about ending a rental agreement before it expires in Virginia.
Virginia tenants have to comply with every term on the lease agreement once they sign it. Failing to comply with the terms they agreed to can lead to penalties, extra fees, evictions, and other legal problems.
A lease agreement's terms may vary depending on the rental property owner and their needs. Still, there are some common terms that most people include, and we listed them below:
- Pay rent on time.
- Keep the unit in good condition.
- Do not disturb the neighbors.
- Send proper notice whenever needed.
On the other hand, landlords also have certain rules they must follow in order to keep a healthy and smooth leasing relationship with their tenants. Here are some common ones:
- Provide repairs promptly when needed.
- Don't evict the tenant forcibly.
- Don't change the locks without the tenant's consent.
- Send proper written notice whenever needed.
- Don't change the lease's terms before it ends unless both parties agree.
Breaking a lease in Virginia (under regular circumstances) requires tenants to provide written notice. According to the law, here are the notice requirements for Virginia tenants:
- Monthly Leases - 30 days.
- Leases with No End Date - At least 120 days before the lease ends.
If the landlord and tenant agreed to a shorter notice period, then they would need to abide by those rules.
Keep in mind that tenants aren't required to provide written notice for a fixed-term lease, as that one already has an established end date.
Delivering a Notice Letter Legally
It's the landlord's duty to specify how they would like to get their written notice delivered. Typically, a lease agreement for a rental property includes those terms.
Most landlords offer the two following methods:
- Serving the notice letter in person.
- Delivering the notice via registered/certified mail.
Tenants who fail to provide written notice through the requested methods may not be able to legally break a lease, which can result in penalties and legal problems.
Breaking A Lease Early
Tenants can break a lease early if they consider it appropriate. Most of the time, these tenants will be responsible for paying rent until it expires unless certain conditions are met.
There are some particular scenarios that may allow the tenant to break a lease early without paying a penalty fee or facing legal consequences. We'll explain each of those scenarios below:
Early Termination Clause
Most modern leases in Virginia include an "Early Lease Termination" clause, which outlines the steps tenants must follow to break a lease early.
It's important to note that, while the tenant may be able to break a lease agreement through this method, they may have to pay a reasonable penalty fee established by the landlord.
Most of the time, the penalty fee for breaking a lease in Virginia is one or two months of rent. The best thing both parties can do before ending a rental agreement is to review the initial document to see if it has an "Early Lease Termination" clause; that will prevent misunderstandings and legal problems.
Active Military Duty
Servicemembers who are getting deployed may be able to break a lease in Virginia without paying a penalty. This is because the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) offers protection to those people in particular scenarios.
Those who are getting deployed and want to break their rental agreement legally must follow these steps:
- Send proper notice to the landlord.
- Provide proof that they signed the lease before entering active duty.
- Provide proof that the deployment will last at least 90 days.
Most tenants send a written notice letter with an attached copy of the deployment orders. Keep in mind that tenants may only terminate the lease 30 days after the next rent period starts, meaning that they won't be able to break the rental agreement immediately.
A "Servicemember" in Virginia includes members or commissioned corps of the following:
- Armed Forces
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Activated National Guard
- Public Health Service
Virginia has certain guidelines for landlords surrounding health and safety in the rental unit. It's the landlord's duty to make their property "habitable" when a new tenant comes in.
Not being able to provide a habitable rental property will "constructively evict" the tenant, which means they could get relieved of any lease obligations. In other words, the tenant may be able to legally break the lease without paying a penalty.
Here's an overview of everything a landlord must offer in order to have a "habitable rental property:"
- Repairs: Landlords must provide all necessary repairs to the rental unit within a reasonable amount of time.
- Common Areas: All common areas shared by two or more dwelling units should be kept clean and safe.
- Facilities and Appliances: All facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord must be kept in good and safe working order. These include electrical, sanitary, heating, plumbing, air conditioning, and more.
- Running Water: Every landlord must be able to supply running water to their new tenant. Moreover, they must be able to supply a reasonable amount of hot water at any time.
- Heating - Air Conditioning: Landlords should be able to provide air conditioning and/or heating unless they're already supplied by a direct public utility connection or if they're provided by an appliance that's in the tenant's exclusive control.
- Smoke Alarms: Tenants should get a certificate that proves there are smoke alarms in good condition inside the property. Landlords should provide these certificates once every year.
- Mold/Moisture: According to the law, landlords must keep their rental unit in a condition that makes it less likely to accumulate moisture and mold. If the tenant shows visible evidence of mold growth or excessive moisture, the landlord must provide repairs promptly and re-inspect the property to ensure there's no longer any visible growth. Finally, the tenant must receive a report of all the efforts done to get rid of the mold/moisture. Landlords aren't required to disclose past mold problems to newer tenants.
- Receptacles: The rental property must have appropriate receptacles for storing, collecting, or removing garbage, waste, or ashes. Moreover, the landlord should be able to arrange the removal of those waste items accordingly.
Violation of the Lease Agreement
Tenants may be able to legally break their lease agreement if they find that the landlord isn't making reasonable efforts to comply with its terms.
There are a few specific duties that the landlord must always meet. Otherwise, the tenant could get relieved from all their duties surrounding the lease agreement. Those include:
- Not complying with one of the lease's provisions, especially if those affect the tenant's health and safety. In these cases, the tenant can send a written notice letter that states the violation of the terms. If the landlord doesn't fix the problem within 21 days of receiving the letter, the tenant may be able to break the lease agreement.
- Repeatedly and intentionally breaching a lease provision. Here, the tenant can send a 30-day notice stating they will move out of the property once that period passes.
- Breaching a lease term that's not remediable. In these cases, the tenant may send a 30-day notice letter to their landlord stating that the lease agreement will end after that period.
Harassment or Privacy Violations
Repeated landlord harassment may allow a tenant to break a lease early without any problems. Here are two common scenarios that are considered "landlord harassment:"
- Changing Locks: Virginia prohibits landlords from locking their tenants out for any reason. In other words, changing the locks without the tenant's consent is considered landlord harassment.
- Unreasonable Entry: Landlords in Virginia are required to provide at least 24 hours of notice before entering the property. Not following this rule will count as a violation of the tenant's privacy, which can allow them to break the lease early.
Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, and Stalking
Victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, or stalking get protected by the state. Tenants who are able to prove their status and want to move out of the property may serve a 30-day notice to their landlord with an attached copy of the protection or conviction order.
Failure to Provide Mandatory Disclosures
Most states have rules surrounding "mandatory disclosures." It means that there's specific documentation or policies that landlords have to disclose to their new tenant before they move in.
Landlords who fail to provide these disclosures may get asked to pay fines. On the other hand, the tenant may seek legal counsel to file a lawsuit against the landlord if the missed disclosure caused a health or safety hazard to the tenant.
Here are the mandatory disclosures needed for every lease agreement in Virginia:
Landlords who have knowledge of any drywall defects in their property must disclose it to their tenant if they're not able to fix them before. They must provide the disclosure before the tenant signs the lease.
Tenants who don't receive the appropriate notice and see these drywall problems may terminate their lease agreement within 60 days of discovering these issues. The termination of the lease agreement would be effective at least 15 days after the notice got sent or after the date the rent was paid, whichever is later.
The termination's effective date be longer than one month from the mailing date.
Past Methamphetamine Manufacturing
If the landlord has knowledge that their rental unit was used to manufacture methamphetamine in the past, they must do reasonable efforts to clean it. However, if they're not able to clean it, they must provide their tenant with a written disclosure before they sign the lease agreement.
Landlords who fail to provide this disclosure may grant the tenant the right to break their lease within 60 days of discovering that the unit was used for those purposes before and wasn't cleaned.
Nearby Military Air Installation Locations
Every landlord in Virginia must notify their tenant if their property is located adjacent to a military air installation. The notification must include information about the property being located near an accident potential zone, a noise zone, or both.
If the landlord fails to provide notice about an adjacent military air installation before the tenant signs the lease, they may have the right to terminate the lease during the first 30 days of any new period.
Yes, there are a few other arguments that tenants may use for breaking a lease in Virginia. However, these reasons may not allow the tenant to break the lease immediately, as they may have to get reviewed by a court.
Some of these reasons include:
Reasonable Accommodations: According to the "Fair Housing Act" and the "Americans with Disabilities Act," landlords may have to provide certain accommodations for people with a qualified disability or health issue.
A tenant may request an early termination if the rental properties don't meet the accommodation standards requested by law.
Illegal Contracts: If the tenant finds out that the lease agreement may be illegal, they may use it as an argument to break it. An example of an illegal contract would be one where the landlord is leasing the unit to a minor, which isn't allowed in Virginia.
Finally, we have some arguments that tenants may use to break a lease but may not be enough justification on their own to avoid penalties. These include:
- Moving somewhere else for a new work office or school.
- Moving out because of a separation or divorce.
- Moving in with a partner, close friend, or family member.
- Downsizing or upsizing.
- Buying a new house.
Keep in mind that tenants may still try to break a lease under these arguments, but you should be able to enforce your penalties if the "issue" isn't severe enough.
Breaking a lease early in any state will pose several problems for the landlord. Losing a tenant can make the landlord lose money in owed rent and re-renting expenses.
Thankfully, including an "Early Termination Clause" in your lease can help to avoid legal problems while ensuring you get compensated for all the potential money you lost. It's everyone's duty to review the terms of the lease before trying to break it.
An "Early Termination Clause" will outline everything both parties need to know if they ever want to end the agreement before the lease expires. Most of the time, a tenant may be able to break the lease in exchange for a penalty fee (unless they meet one of the conditions we established above).
Once the tenant signs the lease, they must comply with all the clauses written there, including the "Early Termination Clause." Overall, if the tenant tries to break the lease without a valid reason and refuses to pay the penalty, you may be able to file a lawsuit and take the case to court.
Even though filing a lawsuit may not be your preferred outcome, it can be an excellent way to ensure you get paid for the money you potentially lost when the tenant moved out.
Is There a Way to Prevent Tenants from Breaking Their Lease Before It Expires?
The process for breaking a lease in Virginia should be straightforward if there's an "Early Termination Clause" in the document. However, that alone may not be enough to solve the case.
If you want to avoid as many problems as possible, you must make sure that your future tenant reads and understands each term written in the "Early Termination" section. Once they sign the lease, they will have the legal responsibility of complying with what you asked for if they try to end it early.
However, some tenants may want to avoid penalties by negotiating with their landlords. Depending on the case, it may be possible to come to a mutual termination agreement. There, the tenant could pay less money in fees or avoid them altogether.
Sometimes, the tenant offers to help the landlord find a replacement. Once the landlord finds a replacement tenant, the old one would not be liable for the remainder of the rent, so this is an acceptable negotiation approach for both parties.
Other than that, there's no guaranteed way to prevent tenants from breaking a lease, as they may do it for any reason. However, if you enforce your penalties and conditions correctly, you will be able to mitigate damages easily and move on to the next tenant.
Does The Landlord Have The Responsibility To Find New Tenants?
Yes. All landlords in Virginia are required to make a reasonable effort to find a replacement tenant if the old one decides to move out. Landlords can't charge the tenant for the total remaining rent before trying to find a new person.
As mentioned before, the old tenant is only liable for the period the property was vacant. Once the landlord finds a replacement tenant, the old one would no longer have a legal obligation to pay any fees.
However, it's vital to note that if the landlord fails to find a replacement, the tenant will still be responsible for paying the rent they owe before the lease expires.
Another factor to consider is that landlords don't have to lower their rental standards to find another tenant fast. The prospective tenant must go through a thorough screening process to ensure they're the right fit for the landlord and their property.
Subletting the Property
Tenants are able to sublet the property as long as the lease doesn't prohibit it. In most cases, the tenant will need to get their landlord's permission before subletting the property.
To start the process, the tenant must send a letter to their landlord through certified mail. The letter will contain the terms of the subletting request. Then, the landlord may decide to accept or refuse the offer.
Keep in mind that landlords can only reject a subletting request for legitimate and appropriate reasons.
Even though Virginia's laws surrounding early terminations can be complex at times, you may not have any issues with them as long as you include a detailed "Early Termination Clause" in your agreement.
Among all the measures you can take to protect yourself, this clause will likely be the best one, as it will ensure you get compensated if your tenant decides to move out without a valid reason.
What Happens If a Tenant Breaks a Lease Early in Virginia?
The tenant may have to pay a penalty fee to cover owed rent or re-renting expenses, which include advertising, screening processes, and more.
However, tenants may be able to negotiate with their landlords to pay lower fees or avoid them altogether. If both parties agree to a mutual termination, they must create a new document with all the termination terms. Then, the landlord and tenant must sign it to make it legally binding.
What Makes a Lease Legally Binding in Virginia?
A lease agreement is legally binding once all the parties involved sign it. In this case, the parties involved would be the landlord, the tenant, and the property manager (if it's another person).
Can Tenants Avoid Penalties When Breaking a Lease?
Yes. There are certain protections that Virginia law offers tenants who may want to end the lease early. However, not all tenants may be able to apply for those protections, meaning they will have to either negotiate with their landlords or pay penalty fees.
Can Landlords Hold the Security Deposit as a Penalty?
Yes, landlords could hold a tenant's security deposit to cover owed rent. However, if the deposit amount isn't enough to cover all the money owed to the landlord, they may file a lawsuit.
- Virginia Eviction Laws: The Process & Timeline In 2023
- Virginia Landlord Tenant Laws & Rights for 2023
- Virginia Security Deposit Laws | Deductions & Rights
- Virginia Squatter's Rights & Adverse Possession Laws
- Virginia Rent Control Laws (2023) | The Complete Guide
- Code of Virginia § 55-248.33
- Code of Virginia § 55-248.18
- Code of Virginia § 55-225.3
- Code of Virginia § 55-222
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA)