Generally, tenants sign a lease with the intention to stay for the entire term. However, life may come in the way, and they may end up breaking the lease.
Breaking a lease in Texas, much like everywhere else, is a serious matter. After all, a lease is a legally binding document. It binds both you and your tenant for a certain duration of time within which its terms must be upheld.
So, what should you do when your tenant breaks the lease? Generally, the blanket rule is to hold the tenant liable for all rent remaining under the lease. However, this may not always apply in all situations.
What are legal reasons to break a lease in Texas?
In some cases, tenants may be legally justified to break their lease. In such instances, all they have to do is provide you with a notice indicating their intention to leave. Such instances include:
1. There is an early termination clause.
An early termination clause provides specific terms that allow a tenant to terminate their lease early. In exchange, tenants are required to part away with a small penalty fee. The fee is usually equivalent to the rent of two months.
So, if your lease contains this clause, make sure the tenant meets all terms before releasing them. These include paying the fee and providing sufficient notice.
2. The tenant is beginning active service in the military.
All active members who have been deployed or have received a change of station orders are protected by law. Specifically, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The Act protects “uniformed members” belonging to the:
- Armed services
- Activated National Guard
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
- Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To terminate the Texas lease agreement, the tenant would need to do several things. First, they’d need to provide you proof that they signed the lease before joining active duty. Next, they’d need to show evidence of their intention to stay on active duty for at least another ninety days. Lastly, they’d need to provide you with a 30-days’ written notice, indicating their intention to vacate the premises.
3. The unit is no longer habitable.
Every U.S. state has minimum safety, health and building codes that every rental unit must abide by. Texas is no exception.
So, as a landlord, you have a responsibility to ensure your Texas rental unit is fit for occupation. What are some examples of uninhabitable conditions? They can include things like:
- Gross infestations of roaches, fleas or other pests.
- A malfunctioning air conditioning system in dangerously hot summer months.
- Unsafe or exposed wiring.
- Holes in the floor.
A court would probably rule that you’ve “constructively evicted” your tenant. In such a case, the tenant would not have further obligations to the Texas lease agreement and may move out.
Some tenants, however, may decide to stay put and exercise their right to:
- Report the issue to a relevant authority.
- Sue you in court.
Unlike many other jurisdictions, Texas tenants cannot withhold rent when faced with uninhabitable conditions.
4. Harassment tactics are being used.
If you are using aggressive tactics to intimidate or put pressure on your tenant to leave, you may find yourself in legal hot water. Below are instances that may be considered landlord harassment.
- Filing a fake eviction notice to try and force the tenant to leave.
- Filing falsified charges against a tenant. For example, falsely claiming that a tenant has violated a term of the lease in an attempt to evict them.
- Refusing to accept rent payments.
- Intimidating the tenant, whether in writing, in person or through the phone.
- Serving the tenant an improper notice for events like nonpayment of rent, entry or evictions.
- Cutting off amenities that were promised in the Texas lease agreement.
- Failing to notify the tenant of an intended entry.
5. Tenant privacy has been violated.
Texas tenants have a right to the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their rented premises. Barging in unannounced violates this right.
To access rented premises, landlords must first notify their tenants in advance. Some states define how much notice landlords must serve their tenants. Texas, however, doesn’t specify the exact notice landlords should give tenants.
What reasons for breaking a lease are legally unjustified?
No matter how honest they seem, some reasons are generally not enough justification to legally break a lease.
Such reasons include:
- Moving into your new home.
- Relocating to a new school or job.
- Moving in with a new romantic partner.
- Moving to get closer to friends and family.
- Relocating to upgrade or downgrade.
In such cases, tenants have no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the terms of the lease.
So, as a landlord, you can require the tenant to pay for the entire rent due under the lease. For example, if the lease was to end in three months, then you can require the tenant to pay rent for the entire three months remaining under the lease. And that is irrespective of whether they stay in the unit or not.
Additionally, you may also charge them for marketing expenses, as well as the cost of qualifying new tenants.
Are Texas landlords duty-bound to find a replacement tenant?
Yes, Texas landlords must “mitigate damages.” Regardless of why the tenant breaks the lease, landlords cannot just sit back and hope for the best. They are duty-bound to take reasonable steps to re-rent the unit.
If you are successful in re-renting the unit, then the tenant will only be responsible for paying the rent lost when the property was vacant.
Do tenants have a right to sublet their unit in Texas?
Unless otherwise stated, tenants have a right to sublet their unit. So, if your lease doesn’t say anything of the contrary, ensure you have rules that protect your property. For instance, requiring that prospective tenants undergo the same screening criteria as other tenants.
There you have it--everything you need to know about a tenant breaking a lease. If you need further help, SGI Property Management Dallas is here for you. We manage over 500 properties in Phoenix, which means we have the staff and systems to support your property management needs.