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There are times when a tenant is forced to break a lease for reasons she can't control. Though the general rule is that a tenant must abide by a lease's terms until it expires, some situations allow a tenant to break a lease without any legal consequences.
Even if you believe you're within your rights to break a lease, a landlord may still try to sue you for damages.
That's why it may be wise to consult a landlord-tenant attorney if you attempt to break a lease for one of the following reasons:
1. When it's allowed by law.
A federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows a tenant who's enlisted in the military to break a lease when she is called to active duty, is ordered to move because of her military job, or is deployed for at least 90 days.
State laws vary, but some allow a non-military tenant to break a lease if her employer relocates, or if an elderly tenant is moving into a care facility. Check your state's laws or ask an attorney to see if these exceptions apply where you live.
2. When a landlord violates a term of the lease.
Again, state laws dictate when a tenant can break a lease because of a landlord's actions or inaction. Violations of health and safety codes -- for example, no water, no heat, or a roof that's about to collapse -- can lead to "constructive eviction," when a tenant has no choice but to move out.
Most leases also include a "quiet enjoyment" clause. This means a landlord is duty-bound to make sure tenants aren't being too noisy or otherwise stepping upon other tenants' quiet enjoyment rights. A landlord's breach of this duty could be grounds for a tenant to break her lease.
3. When disaster strikes.
A natural disaster like a tornado or earthquake can make a rental property uninhabitable and may allow a tenant to break a lease. But again, it's a good idea to consult a landlord-tenant attorney to ensure breaking your lease is the right legal move.