What to Do When Your Landlord Breaks Your Rental Agreement

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What to Do When Your Landlord Breaks Your Rental Agreement

Lisa Wright · Jun 14, 2022
Person tears up a lease agreement over their desk.

Whether it’s minor complaints or major issues, most tenants have a tale (or tales) to tell about their rental history that involves an unsatisfactory or negligent landlord. But there’s one situation that goes far beyond the usual landlord peeves — namely, when they break the terms of your rental agreement.

A lease is a binding rental agreement entered into by both you and your landlord, which means both parties have an obligation to withhold the terms of the agreement. Similarly, both are subject to repercussions if said agreement is broken. While tenants are usually aware of the consequences they could face for not upholding their end of the deal (i.e. late fees, lost security deposits, and even eviction), many are unaware of what their landlord legally can and cannot do when it comes to the rental agreement.

So how do you know if your landlord has violated the terms of your lease agreement, and what actions can you take if they have? Below are some important things to consider:

Know Your Tenant Rights

Different states have different rental laws, and unfortunately, tenant rights are often woefully underrepresented when it comes to said laws. That being said, being informed is the best way to combat potentially illegal behavior on your landlord’s part. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the lease before signing, and ask for clarification from either your landlord or a legal representative if you’re unsure of the terms. Being aware of the ins and outs of your lease is one of the best ways to avoid conflict in the future.

When Can a Landlord Break a Rental Agreement’s Terms?

There are a couple situations when a landlord can break the terms of a rental agreement. Familiarize yourself with them below:

Termination of a Lease with Cause

Landlords can terminate a lease agreement at any time with a valid reason (for example, if a tenant breaks the terms first). In these cases, they must provide the tenant a written notice of termination in addition to the reason for said termination. This is also known as an “unconditional quit notice.”

Additionally, if your landlord does ask you to leave, you are entitled to a certain amount of time to vacate the premises. This also varies by state, and sometimes even by city.

Termination of a Lease Without Cause

This is where it gets a little confusing. Generally, landlords cannot break leases without “valid” cause — especially in cases where a tenant has signed a lease for a fixed period of time. However, renters who sign month-to-month or even week-to-week leases can be more easily terminated, though the landlord must still technically have a valid reason, and provide proper written notice.

Other Ways Landlords Can Break a Lease

Landlord posts an eviction notice on tenant's door.

Unfortunately, there are all kinds of ways in which landlords can try to break a rental agreement — but that doesn’t mean they’re fair or legal. Knowingly or illegally breaking the rental agreement is a serious offense for both the lessor and the lessee, and there are many situations where tenants do have legal recourse if they can prove their landlord has deliberately (and illegally) broken the terms of the lease.

One common example is when a landlord circumnavigates “cause” when attempting to evict a tenant. This is also known as “constructively evicting” a tenant and can involve a landlord refusing to make repairs, violating health and safety codes, or otherwise failing to provide essential functions like heat or running water, thus creating “uninhabitable living conditions.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the ways a landlord can break a rental agreement; however, they are some of the most common. In these cases, the tenant does have legal recourse, though there are steps to follow in this process, too. For starters, always request repairs in writing. That way, if your landlord fails to make them in an acceptable time frame, you can use these documents to report them to your local housing authority or building inspector.

Withholding rent in these circumstances is not recommended, as your landlord may opt to take you to court for the rent they are owed. Even worse, this technically gives them just cause to evict you.

The first step to determining whether or not your landlord has illegally broken the terms of your rental agreement is to familiarize yourself with local state and city laws regarding tenant rights. Next, review the terms of your lease (with the help of a third party, if necessary). In extreme situations, you may have to be the one to break your lease agreement if the situation continues to go unresolved.

Communication is key in these situations, and a good, working relationship with your landlord is always recommended. Of course, it’s also important to protect yourself and your rights, and know when your landlord has crossed the legal line.

Resources for Tenants

Tenant Resource Center

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

211.org

National Fait Housing Alliance (NHFA)

Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP)

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