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Lease Termination: Ending Your Lease

House & Apartment

This article talks about what happens when a lease ends or you break your lease.

A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant. The tenant agrees to pay a certain amount of money for an agreed time period to live on the property. 

Most written leases are for a fixed term. Though the most common lease is for12 months, a lease can be for any length of time. Students often sign leases for 9 months and move out for the summer. Some leases are month-to-month and renew automatically. Ultimately, the length will be whatever you and the landlord agree upon. 

Oral leases are just as binding as written leases and may also be for a fixed term. However, an oral lease for more than a 12-month period is invalid.

Will my lease continue after the written expiration date?

At the end of a lease, the landlord and the tenant can decide whether to sign a new lease agreement. If there is no new lease agreement, one of two things can happen.

First, if the lease agreement says what will happen, that controls. For example, many leases say they will automatically renew on a month-to-month basis unless the tenant or the landlord decide otherwise.

Second, if the lease is silent on what happens after expiration, you may still have an implied contract based on how often you pay rent. For example, if your landlord accepts a monthly rent payment after the lease ends, you may be able to continue renting on a month-to-month basis. If you pay rent weekly, you may be able to continue on a week-to-week basis. The lease will continue in this manner until someone gives notice that they wish to terminate or change the lease. Unless the lease says otherwise, this notice must equal the pay period length – so if you pay monthly, you or your landlord must give a month's notice unless the lease gives a different time period. If you pay weekly, you or your landlord must give a week's notice.

What are the pros and cons of a month-to-month arrangement after my lease expires?

Under a month-to-month lease, both parties are held to a shorter time period. You do not have to stay for a certain number of months. This can be convenient if you are uncertain about living in the home long term. You can end the lease by giving your landlord a month's notice. However, the landlord can also end the lease by giving you a month's notice. If this happens unexpectedly, you may need to find a new home quickly.

The lease can end at any time, so long as the party who wants to end the lease gives a month's notice.

How do I move out at the end of the lease?

Most written leases include the lease’s length and how to properly terminate the lease. If your lease will end soon, you can usually tell your landlord that you plan to move when the time is up. It is best to tell your landlord your plans in writing. Some landlords have a form you must sign. Be sure to ask your landlord or leasing office if they have Notice of Non-renewal form, especially if you live in a big apartment complex.

Other landlords will be satisfied with a letter or email that says you do not intend to renew.

Example:

Dear John Smith, Please accept this e-mail as notice that I do not intend to renew our lease agreement. My last rent payment will be January 1, 2021. I will move out and turn in my keys by January 31, 2021. My forwarding address for the return of my security deposit is 1234 Brook Lane, Anytown, TX 77777.

If you just move out without telling your landlord, you may end up owing rent or fines under your lease. It may also make it harder for you to get your deposit back.

How can I get out of my lease early?

If a tenant does not have a legal excuse to end the lease early, they may be responsible for rent until the lease expires or until the landlord finds a new tenant. The tenant may also owe any fees the lease mentions. Failure to pay can hurt the tenant’s credit, result in lawsuits, and may also show up on the tenant’s rental history. A poor rental history can make it harder to find housing in the future.

(Note, though, that it is not a crime in Texas to break a lease early. It is only a contract violation.)

Still, it may be possible to get out of your lease early.

Early Termination by a Mutual Agreement

You may be able to talk to your landlord and work out something. Maybe you could arrange a final payment schedule or find someone to take over your lease. Your landlord would have to agree to any of these options, so it could be helpful to start the conversation with an idea about how you can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. If your landlord does agree, get the agreement in writing to prove you are no longer responsible under the lease.

Legally Breaking the Lease Without a Mutual Agreement

The lease can end based on a lease violation. For example, the landlord may evict the tenant if the tenant fails to pay rent or does something the lease prohibits. Likewise, a tenant may be able to break the lease if the landlord fails to keep the home repaired and habitable or harasses the tenant. The tenant will likely need a court order to break the lease, even if the landlord is at fault.

If your landlord decides to end the lease based on a tenant violation, you still have the right to make the landlord go through the formal eviction process in court. Note that an eviction case on your record – even if you win – may make it difficult for you to rent in the future.

Sexual Assault

Someone who experienced sexual assault may be able to break their lease early. See this article for more information.

Health Reasons

You may be able to get a reasonable accommodation to end your lease. See below.

What if I need to move for health reasons?

Landlords have to be reasonable when it comes to tenant health issues. In some cases, this could mean that they have to let you move out early if living in the home puts your health at risk.

If you need to move for health reasons, you can use this tool from Disability Rights Texas to help you write a letter asking to end your lease early. If you ask to end your lease early but your landlord or creditor is still demanding rent or fees, you can use this tool to tell them to stop.

What if my landlord sells the property while I am living there?

If the landlord sells, dies, or transfers the property, the new owner is obligated to honor your lease and any other agreement you made with the original owner or management. This is another reason to always have important agreements in writing, signed and dated.