What Are Valid Reasons a Landlord May Terminate a Lease?
When Is a Landlord Prohibited from Terminating a Lease?
Though it’s common for a landlord and tenant to have an unwritten agreement regarding the terms of a property rental, everyone benefits when the rights and responsibilities of both parties are memorialized in writing. Provided the lease agreement is legally formed, it binds both landlord and tenant.
Common Reasons a Landlord May Terminate a Lease
Though laws vary from state to state, and each lease agreement is construed according to its terms, there are some situations commonly built into lease agreements that permit the landlord to discontinue the lease. Many of these same rights apply when there is no written lease agreement:
- Non-payment of rent—A lease agreement should specify the amount of rent to be paid, as well as the due date. The lease may also identify a grace period after the due date, where payment will still be accepted and eviction proceedings will not be initiated. Outside of that grace period, failure to pay rent due is a basis for termination. Paying a portion of the rent due will not suspend eviction proceedings.
- Engaging in criminal activity on the leased property—A common clause in most leases permits the landlord to immediately terminate the lease and file for eviction if there is evidence of illegal acts on the property.
- Committing domestic violence on the property—Most states permit a landlord to terminate a lease if one of the tenants is charged with or convicted of harassment, stalking, intimidation, assault, abuse, kidnapping, or interference with custodial arrangements.
- Failure to maintain the premises in liveable condition—Though this can be subjective, a landlord often has the right to terminate a lease if the tenant allows the property to deteriorate to a state where it is either uninhabitable or poses significant safety or health risks. Such conditions can involve a failure to keep the premises clean but can also involve storage of dangerous items, as well as regular activities that put other tenants in jeopardy of harm.
- Allowing others to live at the property without permission—Most leases require the tenant to obtain permission from the landlord to sublet a rental. In addition, the lease may limit the number of people who can reside in the apartment and may require notice to the landlord when an additional resident moves in.
- Structural damage to the property—Landlords expect some normal wear and tear, but the intentional or careless destruction of property is typically grounds for termination of the lease.
- Housing a pet without permission—Leases generally state whether or not pets are allowed. If the lease prohibits pets, having one can get you evicted.
Situations Where a Landlord May Not Terminate a Lease
There are also certain circumstances where a landlord may be legally prohibited from terminating a lease:
- In retaliation for legitimate maintenance or repair requests—A landlord cannot evict a renter simply because they make one or more requests for legitimate repairs. Furthermore, many states prohibit a landlord from seeking eviction if a tenant pays for the repairs and deducts the cost from a monthly rent payment or withholds rent until the repairs are made. Such situations are not considered non-payment of rent.
- In retaliation for legal action filed by the tenant against the landlord—A landlord may not break a lease if a tenant files a valid personal injury claim or other legitimate legal complaint.
- In retaliation for reporting the landlord to the health department or similar agency for legitimate violations of health or safety codes
- In violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, or in any way that discriminates against the tenant based on race, color, creed, gender, religion, national origin, family status or disability
Though laws vary from state to state, landlords have some general rights to terminate a lease upon the occurrence of certain conditions. Often, those rights are set forth in a written lease agreement, but landlords also have the legal right to break oral lease agreements under specific circumstances, including, but not limited to, the non-payment of rent, the destruction of property, and participation in illegal activity on the premises. Landlords are generally prohibited from ending a lease in retaliation for certain legal acts by the tenant or in ways that constitute discrimination under state or federal law.