While not commonplace, not all tenants stay for the entire life of the lease. Certain things may come in the way of your tenant’s life and they may be forced to break their Texas rental lease early.
Normally, breaking a lease early comes with a bevy of financial and legal repercussions for tenants. However, that’s dependent on the reason for breaking the lease in Texas. If the reason is legally justified, then the tenant may not be liable for paying you any penalties even with early lease termination.
There are two important things to know in this regard. That is, when your tenant can break a lease early without penalty, and if Texas law requires you to “mitigate damages” for residential leases.
When Can Your Tenant Break Their Lease Without Penalty under Texas Law
Texas allows tenants to legally break a lease early without penalty or deduction their security deposit in a handful of scenarios. They are as follows.
Scenario #1: If the lease allows it
Some modern lease agreements contain an early termination clause. The clauses contains specific terms that may allow a tenant to break their lease early as long as certain conditions are met, which doesn’t always include the tenant having to pay rent until the lease in Texas ends.
Generally speaking, early termination clauses require tenants to do two things in order to be off the hook. That is, provide a notice (usually 30 days) and pay a penalty fee (usually equal to the rent of 2 months).
Scenario #2: If the tenant is beginning an active military career
Active service members are protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Specifically, it offers protection when either of two things happen. That is, due to relocation or permanent change of station. It’s a landlord’s duty to accommodate active service members.
Texas recognizes a servicemember as one who belongs to either the armed forces, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, the activated National Guard, or the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
There are certain requirements that the relief act places on a tenant in order to break the lease early. For one, the tenant must prove that they intend to stay on active duty for 90 days or more. Two, to prove that they signed the lease agreement before entering active military duty.
And three, serve a written notice to the landlord indicating their intentions to leave for active military duty. They must also attach a copy of the deployment letters alongside the written statement.
Once the tenant has fulfilled all these requirements, the earliest the notice can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period.
Scenario #3: If the unit is no longer habitable
Texas requires landlords to maintain their properties to certain acceptable standards. According to the state’s Warranty of Habitability, rental units must meet specific health and safety codes. They don’t need to give the landlord written notice.
If you fail to uphold those standards even after being notified by your tenant, the tenant would be deemed “constructively evicted” by a court. They would then have no further responsibilities under the lease agreement even before the lease expires.
In Texas, the following are some of the things that make a unit uninhabitable.
- Lack of heated water
- Water supply problems
- Slipping issues in the shower, stairs, or bathroom
- Mold and damp growth
- Lighting issues
- Issues of drainage and sanitation
- Fire issues and matters of fire safety
- Electrical hazards
- Structural damage
- Pests infestation
- Lack of a functional smoke alarm
Scenario #4: If an action is serious enough to be landlord harassment
Regardless of whatever a tenant has done, harassing them is a no-no. If a landlord repeatedly violates the tenant’s rights, a tenant can break a lease. Landlord harassment can take many forms, including the following:
- Sexually assaulting your tenant
- Making falsified reasons in order to evict your tenant
- Coercing, intimidating, or threatening your tenant for exercising any of their rights
- Refusing to accept a rent payment from an old or new tenant
- Locking the tenant out, removing their belongings from the unit, or shutting down previously available amenities
- Rejecting a tenant’s application without a reasonable justification
- Making threats to physical injury either verbally or through a call
- Increasing the rent amount for no apparent reason and without adherence to Texas laws on rent increases
- Ignoring maintenance requests from your tenant despite their repeated requests
Scenario #5: If you enter your tenant’s unit without notice
Entering your tenant’s unit without serving proper notice is also another form of landlord harassment. Tex. Property Code 92.0081 requires landlords to provide their tenants with an advance notice prior to entering their rented premises. However, what the statute doesn’t say is how much notice period a landlord must provide. If a landlord fails to do this, they can be held liable.
As such, it’s your responsibility as a landlord to include one in your lease agreement. Typically, a 24 hours’ notice suffices.
You must also only enter your tenant’s rented unit if you have a legitimate reason. Common legitimate reasons include:
- To inspect the unit.
- To show the unit to prospective tenants, lenders or buyers.
- In the event of an emergency.
- If you have reasons to believe the tenant has abandoned their rental unit.
If you repeatedly enter your tenant’s unit without notice, your tenant would be considered “constructively evicted.” And consequently, may choose to break the lease.
Scenario #6: If the tenant is a victim of domestic violence
Victims of domestic violence can also break their lease in Texas according to the landlord-tenant law. But before doing so, you can require them to show proof of their status, which they can do by showing you any of the following. (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.016). They don’t need to continue paying rent if this is the case, no matter if it’s an old or new tenant.
- A temporary injunction
- An order of emergency protection
- A protection order
- A temporary ex parte order
The tenant must also provide you a 30 days’ notice prior to moving out of their rented premises.
Does Texas Law Require Landlords to Mitigate Damages After a Tenant Breaks Their Lease?
Yes! You must make reasonable efforts to re-rent your property after a tenant breaks their lease. If you are able to find a replacement tenant quickly, then the tenant will only be liable for paying the amount of rent for which the rental unit wasn’t occupied.
Owning a rental property in Texas makes it essential to know the local laws when it coming to breaking a lease before the lease expires, but it can be a bit confusing to navigate. If you’d like some clarification, let our team here at Keyrenter North Dallas help you get to know the law. Get in touch today and find out how we can help you manage your rental property.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Also, laws change and this content may not be up to date at the time you read it. For expert legal advice, kindly get in touch with Keyrenter North Dallas. We can help you take the stress out of managing your North Dallas property, including helping you handle your legal obligations.