Can I break my lease because of sickness or injury?

Written on September 12, 2017 by

Keep Best TenantsGetting out of a lease or rental agreement early may be a costly undertaking.

When you sign a lease, you agree to pay the entirety, typically in monthly installments. If you leave early, you may still have to pay rent for any months left on your contract. Your landlord may take legal action if you don’t.

But what if you have a serious illness or injury that makes it difficult for you to stay in the same rental unit?  In such a case, you may be able to break the lease, but it varies from case to case and state to state.

Read your rental agreement

Before you notify your landlord of your intent to leave, read your rental agreement. Some agreements have an opt-out or default clause explaining exactly what you’re responsible for financially if you break or default on the agreement.

In some cases, the agreement may state that you must give notice of your intent to break the lease one or two months before you leave. If you leave and don’t give ample notice, you will at the very least be responsible for paying the rent for the time allotted in the opt-out clause.

Talk to your landlord

Speak with your landlord as soon as you know you’ll need to leave. Explain the nature of your (or a family member’s) illness or injury and why you can no longer rent the unit.

If your injury makes it nearly impossible to access the building or your rental unit, your landlord may wish to make updates so you can still stay on as a renter. You might also have a right to modify your unit or portions of the property at your own expense to make the site accessible. It’s possible that some building updates are already in the works to ensure it’s up to code.

The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations to multi-family dwellings (within reason) to make the property accessible. In other words, the site should have a handicapped parking spot near the door if you require one, or sturdy railings along all stairways, provided the place you live has more than five units. These types of features would be the landlord’s responsibility.

These FHA laws do not apply to structures with less than five rental units. So if you rent half of a duplex, an apartment added on to your landlord’s garage, or a single-family house, these laws don’t apply. In Virginia and some other states, the FHA requirements don’t apply if you live in the dwelling that you are renting to roommates. But it’s still worth checking your state and local laws, as they may specify landlord responsibilities for small operations.

If your injury or illness is of a long-term nature and updating your own rental space would prove too expensive, breaking the lease may be less costly for you.

How much rent is due if I leave?

Let’s say you have six months left on a one-year lease when you move out. If there is no opt-out clause or a state law that benefits your situation, you could be responsible for the six months left on the lease if the landlord doesn’t rent your unit out before then.

In most states, however, a landlord is required to “mitigate damages to the tenant”, which usually means they are required to actively seek a new tenant for the vacated unit; they can’t just do nothing and collect rent for six months.

You can help speed things along by helping find someone to rent your old home.

Keep in mind that the landlord still has the right to screen and deny potential applicants. You will most likely need to pay rent for however many months the unit is vacant.

When you can break the lease without ramifications

National and statewide fair-housing laws may allow you to break the lease. For instance, in one case in which a renter had post-traumatic stress disorder, loud noises near the rental complex triggered PTSD symptoms and made it difficult for the renter to sleep or enjoy a normal life.

The renter also obtained proof of the condition from a doctor. The landlord was unable to do anything to make “reasonable accommodations” for the renter since the problem was due to noise from a highway and railroad tracks nearby. In such a case, a tenant would legally be allowed to break the lease, based on terms in California housing rules and by the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act.

There’s no simple answer

In a nutshell, there’s no simple answer to the question, “Can I break my lease,” and to whether you’d legally be allowed out of your lease. It depends upon the conditions of the illness or injury, as well as the state laws. Some states such as Nevada are more lenient with tenants over age 60.

Check your state laws to look for fair housing rules that may help your situation. If you’re not sure how to interpret what you’ve read, contact your state or community’s fair-housing department to determine the best course of action.

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8 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • GuyE

    If one works at a rental place with a 20% discount off rent, can that employee break the lease if any or all apply,

    1) 2 weeks beore the first if the month the leasing office wants me to sign a new contract foe a new, higher rent for six mths while maintaining a month by month agreement as an employee, who can be terminated then evicted in 7 days if fired

    2) boss gives you a letter , after asking for a day off to use 8hrs Overtime to car shop and due to fatigue ( in order to visit urgent care for injuries suffered at work). Boss declined that request. and ssserts potential termination basrd on performance and lack of car.

    3) Finance tells you a new policy, that failure to pay complete rent by the 10th of every month or no discount
    4) .

  • Amanda

    If we have a commercial lease up to 2021 and the landlord is causing a lot of problems and playing dirty tricks as he is in financial problems what can we do. It is getting serious now as there have been accidents caused by his electricians that could have been fatal. One of the staff who is friends of his caused us to shut down the other day. We don’t know what to do as it’s all getting very dangerous now. We had car problems also that had been sabotaged. We both have been diagnosed with hereditary illnesses this year also and the stress is going to break us both. Our business is doing really well and we don’t know where to turn

  • David

    we are having to break a year lease because of a gunshot accident with one of our adult children of 18. we have to move from Alabama back to Arkansas to take care of him. we would like to get our deposit back but the landlord said no even after being told of the accident. i may have to walk away from my deposit but was wondering if there is any legal way to get it back?
    we are 6 mos into the lease. he has released us from the remainder of the lease so i’m thinking don’t poke the bear.

    • Sunny

      Deposits are held as good faith as well as to cover possible expenses tenants leave behind including finding a new tenant. He may not think there will be any money to return, depending on the condition of the place. Its also possible, that he decided to keep it ,as a condition of breaking your lease. If you talk to him with some understanding of his position, then you may be able to effect some return of deposit. At the very least you will know you have done everything in your power. My last tenant had an emergency, I released them from their lease, gave them a free month, and, after the walk through, they got back most of their deposit. Not all landlords will do that for someone though.

    • Connie

      I am breaking my lease because of health problems caused by the gentleman above me who moved into the unit a month ago. I had lived in a condo for 30 months and enjoyed 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths and ample living March a gentleman moved above me. His rental unit had not been lived in for 8 months.
      My rent payments were always on time and I never met my landlord, as he lives in Central America.
      The strange odor which I could not recognized was finally made known on April 28th when a police officer recognized the very strong odor of Marijuana! I have a doctor’s report stating that if I stay in my rental until the end of my lease, i should wear a mask and I now have a prescribed inhaler. I live in Florida. What will I face in court?

  • Diana Erickson

    I am a disabled 60 year old woman living in an apartment with limited hot water and now I cannot use the heat because of mold in my ventilation and heating unit. The management refuses to do any repairs. My lease is up March 31st but I don’t think I will survive the month of February with below-zero temps. I have been suffering from mold poisoning now since April. I have a housing voucher and in order to switch it over to a new apartment elsewhere they have to release me from the lease. I am on a fixed income and I cannot cover 30 days of expenses for 2 apartments. When I first signed the lease they told me they would offer me a handicap unit at ground level but they never did they just told me they couldn’t help me.

  • Maria L Page

    i’ve lived in my current home for 3 years no late rent no concerns except issues that arise with maintaining appliances heating system etc that’s the responsibility of the landlord. however i’ve been diagnosed with ptsd and have opt’d to break my lease ‘ive paid up rent. is my landlord to return my security deposit although there’s month’s left in my lease?

  • Taylor

    We are located in NY, and we have a tenant you broke their lease using a medical note, meaning we had to allow the breaking of the lease and return the full security. The note stated from the doctor that they could no longer live alone. That tenant is now wanting to come back. What do we do?

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