Whether it’s ignorance of the rules or life getting in the way, tenants breaking the lease early isn’t uncommon in the state of Texas. Regardless of the reason, breaking a lease agreement before the lease expires is a breach of contract, and that is never an issue to be taken lightly.
As a landlord, you’re usually trying to find long-term tenants who will stick around and respect your property. However, things happen and you have to be prepared. The reasons to break a lease in Texas can be legally justified or not, but only legally justified reasons exempt former Texas tenants from needing to pay rent.
We here at Bigham & Associates have written this article to help you learn everything you need to know about what happens when breaking a lease early under Texas law.
What are the Most Common Ways a Tenant Breaks a Lease in Texas?
- Subleasing or subletting the rental unit when it’s against the terms of the lease.
- Failing to give the landlord sufficient notice when looking to move out. Texas landlord-tenant law requires a tenant to give their landlord a 30-days notice prior to moving out.
- Terminating the lease early.
- Committing other lease violations before the lease term ends. This can include repainting the property, keeping a pet, or installing equipment without the landlord’s approval.
If a tenant illegally breaks the lease, they must provide either the month’s rent in the case of eviction, the total remaining rent, or simply the rent owed.
Lease terms like that of a security deposit help to assure the landlord that this missing rent is paid. An early termination clause could also help you pursue legal action, but it must be included in the initial lease.
Reasons to Legally Break a Lease
As mentioned earlier, breaking a lease can be either one of two forms: It can be legally justified or not. When legally justified, it means that your Texas tenants can move out of the property early without facing any legal or financial penalty.
Since a tenant needs to provide the landlord written notice with a notice period of 30 days, a month-to-month lease is usually exempt from these laws. The lease term must end in more than 30 days from written notice for a landlord to take legal action.
The following are the instances when breaking a lease is legally justified:
1. When your tenant is a member of the uniformed services
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects tenants who sign up for active military duty. If called to active military service, the only thing a tenant is required to do is serve you with 30 days’ notice.
This benefit is limited to ‘uniformed services’. This includes the armed forces, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, the activated National Guard, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
2. When a tenant is a victim of stalking or abuse
Under the Texas Property Code, breaking a lease is justified if the Texas tenant is a victim of domestic violence, abuse or stalking. As a landlord, you can request legal proof of domestic violence or such claims, such as a restraining order or other court documents.
3. If the rental unit becomes unhabitable
Landlords are required by the Texas landlord-tenant law to provide housing that adheres to the state’s habitability laws. If a landlord fails to do so, a court will determine that your tenant has been ‘constructively’ evicted.
Constructive eviction is when a landlord does things like change or remove the locks, or shut off utilities. Here are the specific requirements you must follow before terminating a lease.
4. If there is landlord harassment
Landlord harassment is a serious violation of the lease agreement in the state of Texas.
Examples of landlord harassment include privacy violations, construction-related nuisance, serving improper notices, changing the locks, or refusing to make necessary repairs.
Doing any of these things may give your tenant the right to legally enforce early lease termination.
5. If you violate a tenant’s privacy rights
Your tenants have a legal right under Texas law to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their home. You cannot barge in as you like, and will need to serve at least 24-hours’ notice before showing up to their unit.
If a landlord repeatedly violates a tenant’s privacy, it can be grounds for said tenant to break the lease early without paying rent for the term remaining until the lease ends. It’s a landlord’s duty to respect a tenant’s privacy.
In addition to providing at least some notice, your reason for entry must also be reasonable. Some of the common reasons to access a tenant’s unit include to make needed or agreed repairs, under court order, or to show the property to a prospective tenant or buyer.
The timing must also be within reason for your Texas tenant. For example, between 8AM and 5PM during weekdays. If a landlord violates this, they could be accused of violation of privacy.
Does a landlord have a duty to find a new tenant in Texas?
Yes. As a landlord, you must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit to a new tenant after your old tenant moves out. By doing so, this helps you mitigate damages.
If you are successful in finding a replacement tenant, then your tenant who broke the lease may end up being liable for only a fraction of the rent remaining under the lease.
Paying the remaining rent under the lease may not, however, be the only cost a tenant might need to shoulder if they break your lease in Texas. You may also charge them for certain expenses, like the cost of advertising the unit or screening new tenants. These terms should be outlined in your lease agreement.
Disclaimer: This information is only meant to be informational and is in no way a substitute for legal advice. If you have more questions or need further clarification about what to do in case a tenant decides to break the lease, please consider hiring legal services or a professional property management company.