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How to Legally Break a Lease in Texas



A lease is a legal binding contract between a tenant and a property owner. The parties agree to certain conditions that apply for a specified time. Most tenants who sign a lease for their apartment plan to stay for the full amount of time required in the lease. But despite your best intentions, you may want (or need) to leave before your lease is up—for example, you lost your job, you are getting a divorce, or your roommate moved out. All of those seem like good reasons to break your lease, however, none of them are JUSTIFIABLE reasons to break a lease. You will still be held accountable for what you agreed to in the lease contract. Your maximum responsibility is the rent for the remainder of the lease, which could be a lot of money if you still have several months left on your lease.

 

When Breaking a Lease Is Justified in Texas

1. Right to Vacate and Avoid Liability Following Certain Decisions Related to Military Service - Texas Property Code § 92.017. If the military service requires a permanent change of station; or to deploy with a military unit for a period of 90 days or more. You have a right to break the lease under federal law. (War and National Defense Service members Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. § § 501 and following.) You must provide government proof of your deployment or change of station.

2. Right to Vacate and Avoid Liability Following Certain Sex Offenses or Stalking - Texas Property Code § 92.0161. State law provides early termination rights for tenants who are victims of sexual assault or stalking, provided that specified conditions are met (such as the tenant securing a protective order).

3. Right to Vacate and Avoid Liability Following Family Violence - Texas Property Code § 92.0161. Tenants may have special statutory rights to terminate the lease early in certain situations involving family violence. Certain conditions have to be met, you must have a temporary injunction or protective order.

4. The Rental Unit is Unsafe or Violates Texas Health or Safety Codes

If your landlord does not provide habitable housing under local and state housing codes, a court would probably conclude that you have been “constructively evicted;” this means that the landlord, by supplying unlivable housing, has for all practical purposes “evicted” you, so you have no further responsibility for the rent. Texas law (Tex. Property Code § 92.056, 92.0561) sets specific requirements for the procedures you must follow before moving out because of a major problem. The problem must be truly serious, such as the landlord won’t repair your A/C or remediate a pest infestation. Keep in mind you still can’t just up and move out. You MUST follow the protocol set forth by Texas State Laws.

 

How to Minimize Your Financial Responsibility When Breaking a Lease


If you want to leave early, and you don’t have legal justification to do so, the absolute worst thing you can do is just move out. I did this with my first apartment and I was on the hook for rent for the remainder of the lease! I did not realize what a huge mistake I was making - I learned WHAT NOT TO DO the hard way!


There’s a lot you can do to limit the amount of money you need to pay your landlord—and help ensure a good reference from the landlord when you’re looking for your next place to live. First, study your lease agreement and look for an “early termination option” or a “reletting clause”. Some leases may include an “early termination option” that terminates the lease agreement for a fixed amount. Some leases have a similar clause called a “reletting clause”, but read carefully, some “reletting clauses” hold you liable for the remainder of the rent until they find a replacement tenant to lease your unit.


 

Release of Lease Agreement


Regardless of if you have a justifiable reason to break your lease or not you should meet with your apartment manager and tell him/her you need to break your lease and you want to do it legally.


If you DO have a justifiable reason to end your lease provide your documentation and ask the manager for a “release of lease agreement”. Typically, if you have a valid reason to break your lease the manager will help you get that done. YOU MUST GET THIS IN WRITING - preferably on a “release of lease agreement”!


If you DO NOT have a justifiable reason to end your lease - ask what your options are. The manager may agree to let you out of the lease at some cost. YOU MUST GET THIS IN WRITING - preferably on a “release of lease agreement”! Again, the worst thing you can do is leave without coming to an agreement. You may not want to pay the reletting fee or the early termination fee or whatever other option that the manager offered. If you leave without coming to an agreement you could end up being charged for the full remainder of your lease. And you will find leasing another apartment will be difficult since you left owing the property money and have a negative rental reference.


 

Fight Back in a Lawful Manner


If you have a justifiable reason to end your lease and the manager is not agreeing to let you out of your lease. First, make sure you are abiding by the law and that YOU are following the proper procedures set forth. (See blog post Handling Disputes with Your Landlord) For example your A/C goes out - you can't just demand to be let out of your lease - you must request the repair in writing and allow a reasonable amount of time for the repair. A second repair notice may be required if the first repair notice was not sent by certified mail. Sometimes it is not easy to get out of a lease even if you have a justifiable reason - there are still steps you must follow so that you are abiding by the laws.


TIP: Prepare your documents before your meeting with the manager.

  • Know your Texas tenant rights - and print them out - highlight the appropriate areas that support your claim.

  • Print out the Texas Property Code Statutes that apply to your issue.

  • Provide the documents to support your claim (protective order, military deployment orders, formal requests for repairs, certified mail receipts, etc)

  • If it is an unresolved issue that affects your health or safety. Provide pictures, videos and all correspondence you have related to the problem.


If you provided all the appropriate documentation to the manager, plus, you followed the procedures outlined in the Texas Tenant's Rights handbook on the issue and the manager is still NOT agreeing to let you out of lease then it is time to contact the Regional Manager. If the Regional Manager does not satisfy your request then you should contact the actual Landlord (owner). The manager is just an employee of the management company who is acting on behalf of the landlord. So the landlord is liable for anything the manager or the management company does. Ask the manager - by written request - who the owner is and their address. It is important to know that landlords have a duty to disclose this information in seven days upon a written request by posting the information in the office or responding to you in writing. The only exception to this duty is when the information is in your lease (so check this first). Tex. Prop. Code 92.201. Send your documentation and request to be released from your lease to the owner via certified mail with return receipt. If this fails and you believe you have a justifiable reason to end your lease you may have to contact an attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant issues or have a judge hear your case in small claims court.


TIP: If the issue at hand affects your health and safety and the apartment community will not remediate the problem or let you out of your lease. You can file a complaint with the local health department and the Texas Attorney General's office.


You can report these issues:


Pests: A tenant may report a landlord if their apartment or rental property has shown signs of a mouse, rat, roach, bed bug, or other pest infestation.

Mold: Mold in the living space is dangerous as it can cause breathing problems or more severe reactions.

Lead: Lead paint is common in homes built before 1978. Lead hazards, such as chipping paint, can pose health risks, especially to young children.

Lack of Running Water, Electricity, or Heat: Tenants need to have access to certain vital services in their apartments. Tenants can report landlords if there is no running water in their apartment, if they do not have heat in the winter or A/C in the summer.

Structural Issues: If a roof leak is causing a ceiling to collapse or if the tenant has concerns about other structural issues at the property, the tenant can contact the health department.


 

Final thoughts...


Keep in mind you are in a legal binding contract with the landlord and this should be taken very seriously. You will not be released from the contract unless the lease agreement is fulfilled or by written agreement by both parties to the lease.


 

Disclaimer & Resources


It is important to know we are not lawyers and this blog post is not intended as legal advice. State Laws frequently change. We recommend that you consult with an attorney that specializes in Landlord/Tenant Law should you have any issues with your landlord.


Below you will find some helpful links:


TexasTenant.org offers a generic Release of Lease Agreement form.

The Texas Young Lawyers Association & State Bar of Texas provides a Texas Tenants' Rights Handbook.


 

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