Most landlords in Virginia require their tenants to sign a lease or a rental agreement prior to moving in. A lease agreement binds both the landlord and the tenant for a certain duration of time. Within that time, both parties must abide by certain terms and conditions.
Breaking a lease agreement occurs when tenants move out of their rental premises before the entire lease term ends. In some cases, a renter may have a legal reason for breaking their lease. For instance, if they are moving out because they:
- Are starting active military duty.
- Have become a domestic violence victim.
However, in other cases, a tenant may not have a legal reason for breaking the lease. Legally unjustified reasons include moving out to:
- Downsize or upsize.
- Live with a new partner.
- Be closer to their new place of work.
A landlord can only penalize a tenant if they are moving out without a legally justified reason. In this post, we are going over some of the things a landlord needs to know when their tenant breaks a lease in Virginia.
Legal Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Virginia
A Virginia tenant may be able to break their lease before the end of the lease term due to any of the following reasons:
1. Your Lease Contains an Early Lease Termination Clause
A landlord may choose to have an early termination clause in their leases. If they do, this is perhaps the easiest way for Virginia tenants to break their lease or rental agreement early and move out of the unit.
Early termination clauses require Virginia tenants to meet certain requirements. Normally, a tenant is required to:
- Pay a fee. In most cases, the fee is equivalent to the rent for two months.
- Provide written notice. The written notice should be given two months in advance. A landlord requires this notice period to find a replacement tenant.
Once a renter meets those requirements, they will have no further responsibilities under the lease.
2. The Tenant is Beginning Active Military Service
A tenant may also be able to legally break their lease before the end of the lease term if they are beginning active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act guarantees tenants who are recalled for active duty that right.
The act only applies to four cadres of military personnel:
- The armed forces
- The activated National Guard
- The commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
- The commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A landlord may also require the tenant to provide them with certain information, including a copy of the deployment letters and a written notice of their intention to move out. Once all those requirements are met, the lease will normally terminate 30 days after the next rent period begins.
3. The Tenant is a Victim of Domestic Violence
Special rental provisions exist in Virginia for domestic violence victims. The state defines such victims as victims of sexual abuse, family abuse, stalking, or criminal sexual assault. However, before they can move out, the landlord can require them to show proof of their domestic violence status. For example, by providing a landlord with a copy of the police restraining order.
4. The Rental Property is no Longer Habitable
A rental property owner must provide their tenants with habitable rental premises.
Basically, this means rental properties that:
- Adhere to the safety, health, and building codes.
- Have a working toilet and bathroom.
- Have a ventilating system.
- Provide reasonable protection against criminal intrusion.
- Have working electrical and plumbing systems.
- Have safe drinking water.
Under Virginia law (Va. Stat. Ann. § 55.1-1241 (2020)), if your tenant notifies you of an issue and you fail to respond and provide a habitable rental property, they may be able to legally move out.
5. The Landlord Has Violated the Terms of the Lease Agreement
Landlords, too, have certain responsibilities under a lease or rental agreement that they must abide by for the entire duration of the lease agreement. Some of the landlord responsibilities include:
- Providing a habitable dwelling.
- Properly holding a tenant’s security deposit.
- Responding to repair requests promptly.
- Maintaining a safe environment.
If a landlord doesn’t do such things, their tenant may have a right to break their lease.
Virginia Landlords Responsibility to Find a Replacement Tenant
Virginia landlords have a responsibility to “mitigate damages.” This means that a landlord cannot just sit back and wait for the term to end and then move to court and sue their tenant for all rent due under the lease.
Regardless of their reason for moving out of the rental unit, a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the vacant unit and find a new tenant.
As a landlord, it’s important you know what to do when a renter breaks their lease early.
If you have more questions about the law, JMAX Property Management can help. We are the top rental property management company in Roanoke and Salem.
Contact us today for more information.
Disclaimer: This blog is only meant for educational purposes. For expert help, kindly get in touch with a qualified attorney or an experienced management company.