Can Your Tenant Break Their Lease?

Almost every law or contract has an exception, and your lease agreement is no different. Typically, if a renter moves out before the agreed upon time they are responsible for the rent of that unit until a new tenant moves in. Most states don’t allow you to purposely leave the unit vacant – you do have to put effort into finding a new person to move in. However, there are a few cases in which a tenant is allowed to break their lease with no penalty.

Active Military

Federal law allows people in the military to break their lease to start active military duty, or if their orders take them far away (approx 50 miles). This rule is called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and the law applies to people in the armed forces, the activated National Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Public Health Service.

Your tenant would need to give you a 30-day notice if they’re leaving for military reasons, even if they have time left on the lease.


In some states, if the tenant is facing an employer-mandated move then they are legally able to break their lease. The terms of this vary, so make sure to check your state’s law.


Tenants can’t be forced to live in a space that is unsafe or detrimental to their health. If you are not making timely repairs and the apartment becomes unlivable, not only could the tenant break their lease, you could be on the hook for moving expenses.

Domestic Violence

Many states allow a resident to break a lease if the resident is a survivor of domestic violence. The resident is usually required to provide proof, such as an emergency protective order, as well as written notice of their intent to vacate. Some areas also allow a resident who has been threatened or assaulted with a weapon to break their lease without penalty, as long as the person responsible is placed under arrest for the incident. It’s important to know whether your state or local laws make such provisions.

If your tenant needs to break their lease and none of the above situations apply, it doesn’t mean you have to be void of empathy. Often people move because they have to – whether it’s financial, relationship based, or any number of issues. Always try to work with the tenant and see if there is a deal you can put in place. Avoiding the hassle of legal action is always preferable.