Most landlords in Virginia require their tenants to sign a lease or a rental agreement prior to moving in. A lease 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 occurs when a tenant moves out of their rental premises before the rental term ends.
In some cases, a tenant 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 victim of domestic violence.
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.
It goes without saying that you 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 you need to know when your tenant breaks a lease in Virginia.
Legal Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Virginia
Your Virginia tenant may be able to legally break their lease early due to any of the following reasons:
1. Your Lease Contains an Early Termination Clause
You may choose to have an early termination clause in your lease agreement. If you do, this is perhaps the easiest way for a tenant to legally break their lease or rental agreement early.
Early termination clauses require tenants to meet certain requirements. Normally, a tenant is required to:
- Pay a fee. In most cases, the fee is equivalent to the rent of two months.
- Provide proper notice. The notice should be given two months in advance. A landlord requires this notice period in order to find a replacement tenant.
Once a tenant meets those requirements, they will have no further responsibilities under the lease.
2. The Tenant is Beginning Active Military Duty
Your tenant may also be able to break their lease legally if they are starting active military 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
You may also require the tenant to provide you 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 domestic violence victims as victims of sexual abuse, family abuse, stalking, or criminal sexual assault.
However, before they can move out, you can require them to show proof of their domestic violence status. For example, by providing you a copy of the police restraining order.
4. The Rental Unit is no Longer Habitable
Virginia landlords have a responsibility to provide their tenants with a habitable rental premises.
Basically, this means a rental unit that:
- Adheres to the safety, health and building codes.
- Has a working toilet and bathroom.
- Has a ventilating system.
- Provides reasonable protection against criminal intrusion.
- Has working electrical and plumbing systems.
- Has 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 within a reasonable period of time, they may be able to legally move out.
5. You Have Violated the Terms of the Lease Agreement
Landlords, too, have certain responsibilities under a lease or rental agreement that you must abide by for the entire duration of the lease.
Some of your responsibilities include:
- Providing a habitable dwelling.
- Properly holding a tenant’s security deposit.
- Responding to repair requests promptly.
- Maintaining a safe environment.
If you don’t do such things, your 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 basically means that you cannot just sit back and wait for the term to end and then move to court and sue your tenant for all rent due under the lease.
Regardless of their reason for moving out, you must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit.
As a landlord, it’s important you know what to do when a tenant breaks their lease early.
If you have more questions, JMAX Property Management can help. We are the top 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 property management company.