Signing a lease means a tenant is agreeing to live in your rental unit for the entire duration of the contract. When a tenant breaks this legally-binding agreement, it’s considered breaking the lease, and there are often consequences involved.
There are many reasons why tenants in Texas choose to break a lease. Some reasons are legally justifiable, while others are not. If a tenant moves out and has a legal excuse, they won’t face any penalties and will not have to pay the remaining rent.
Unjustified lease breaks, however, mean that your tenant can be held financially accountable for any loss of rental income and the price of finding another tenant.
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Consequences of Terminating a Lease Early in Texas
Tenants who break their lease without a legally justified reason face the following risks:
- Paying hefty fees. Generally, this means losing the entire amount of their security deposit, which is normally one or two months’ rent.
- Facing a lawsuit. If a tenant breaks a lease, you can also choose to take them to court for the financial burden caused by their actions.
- Negative impact on credit score. Tenants who fail to uphold their end of the lease agreement will risk hurting their creditworthiness.
- Responsibility to pay the remaining rent. For instance, if a tenant moves out while the lease is still active for another five months, they’ll still be liable to pay the five months even though they no longer occupy the property.
Rights of Renters When Signing a Lease
Texas tenants have rights under the state’s landlord-tenant law. To begin with, you cannot simply force them to move out; you must have a legal reason, such as if they violated the terms of the lease.
Even then, you must make sure to follow the correct eviction procedure. If you engage in self-help eviction tactics such as changing the locks, turning off electricity, other otherwise, the court will rule that your tenant has been ‘constructively evicted’.
Constructive eviction is illegal and a tenant can then break the lease and not pay the remaining rent.
Legal Reasons to Break a Lease in Texas
As already mentioned, reasons for breaking a lease can be justified or not. When legally justified, it means that tenants will no longer have any further responsibility under the lease. All they will need to do is serve you with the appropriate notice and supply any proof, if necessary.
In the state of Texas, the following are legally justified reasons to break a lease early.
1. Domestic Violence
If a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, they will be able to break the lease early without facing any penalty. You may choose to request legal proof, such as a restraining order against their partner.
2. Military Service
If your tenant is an active service member, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act will shield them against any form of penalties for breaking a rental agreement in Texas. The Act, however, only applies to military personnel belonging to the uniformed services.
The uniformed services include the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Guard, and the armed forces.
3. Warranty of Habitability
Texas landlords have a responsibility to provide their tenants with a safe and habitable rental unit. The following are some conditions or defects that can make a building uninhabitable:
- An unlit stairway
- Dangerous criminal activity particularly gangs, drugs, and burglaries in the residence
- Presence of pests or mold
- A defective electrical outlet
- Absence of deadbolt locks on exterior doors
- Broken security gate
What’s more, while withholding rent is illegal in Texas, tenants have a right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs.
4. Privacy Rights Violation
Each and every tenant in Texas has a right to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their rented property. As a landlord, you have to give adequate warning before showing up. Otherwise, this will be considered harassment, especially if it’s done repeatedly.
Texas landlord-tenant law doesn’t, however, specify how much this notice should be. That said, most landlords provide their tenants with at least a 24-hours’ notice prior to entering their premises.
Some of the reasons why you may need to enter a tenant’s dwelling include:
- To carry out repairs and maintenance duties
- Court orders
- To show the property to prospective lenders, buyers or tenants
- In case of an emergency
5. Landlord Harassment
Landlord harassment is illegal in the state of Texas. Landlord harassment is aimed at forcing a tenant out of their rented unit by creating uncomfortable situations. Such situations include shutting off utilities, entering the unit without notice, changing locks, and other tactics.
Unjustified Reasons to End a Lease Early in Texas
While these above situations present legal reasons for a tenant to break a lease, there are plenty of other, common excuses that are not legally justified. Such reasons include:
- Moving in with a partner
- Having found a new home to buy/rent
- Moving closer to a workplace
If a tenant breaks a lease with you for an illegal reason, you can take them to court for the remaining cost of rent and the price of finding another tenant.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney. If you have more questions or require further clarification, please consider seeking expert legal services or getting in touch with a property management company.