Breaking a Lease: What Happens If Your Tenant Leaves a Rental Property Early or Without Notice

As a landlord or property manager, you value tenants who keep your units clean, pay rent on time, and stay for as long as possible. But the reality is no rental agreement is safe from a tenant breaking a lease. That’s why it’s crucial to stay educated about your rights and responsibilities as a landlord. 

It’s also vital to have measures in place that protect your bottom line in case a tenant leaves a rental property early or without notice. 

Let’s take a closer look at what happens if a tenant needs to leave but gives proper notice — as well as what happens when they bail on an agreement. We’ll also discuss how to find tenants that have a better chance of finishing their lease terms. 

Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.

When a tenant needs to leave early and provides notice 

If a tenant provides notice that they need to end a rental lease, work with them to understand the “why” behind their need to vacate.

Depending on their reasoning, you might be able to help them stay — or at least continue receiving rent payments until you find a new tenant. 

Here are some potential avenues you can take:

Schedule past-due repairs

If a tenant has requested maintenance without success, schedule repairs immediately. 

You could be on the hook if you fail to do so. In other words, they may have the legal right to vacate or pursue a lawsuit without paying a termination fee.

Extend their lease and waive rent

Forgive unpaid rent in exchange for lengthening a tenant’s lease. For instance, waive the rental fee for three months, but add three months to the end of their lease agreement

Paying rent on time can be challenging for tenants especially if you are living in a city facing high living costs. According to Jack William, founder of GreatLakesTinyHome who recently resided in a small house like these tiny homes for sale in MN, says that it can significantly reduce monthly expenses, including rent, utilities, and maintenance, as well as lower upfront property costs.

Transfer them 

Offer to move the tenant to another rental unit or property if the current one doesn’t meet their expectations or puts them at risk for any reason. 

For example:

  • The unit is uninhabitable (i.e., due to poor plumbing, broken A/C, or unfinished repairs) 
  • They’ve just lost a job and need to find a cheaper unit

Collect fees and ask for help

Collect a penalty fee to help pay rent until you find a new tenant. 

Ask the tenant if they know someone who’s credit-worthy and can take over their lease. (Be sure to screen this prospective tenant before approving the takeover.)

Reasons for breaking a lease.

(Image Source)

However, staying may not be an option for some tenants. For instance, if a tenant in the military has been given orders to start active duty or transfer, they have the right to vacate under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Thankfully, they must provide 30-day notice effective 30 days after the next rent payment is due. 

In other words, if they provide notice on January 15, they’ll still need to pay February’s rent. But as of March 1, they’ll no longer be responsible for payments. 

Other motives you may include:

  • Job transfers (some states allow tenants to break their leases for this reason)
  • Job losses
  • Divorces
  • Illnesses

When a tenant breaks a lease agreement without notice 

If a tenant disappears on you, contact your attorney to understand your rights and how they pertain to the tenant’s particular lease agreement. You might consider suing for non-payment, keeping their deposit, and/or reporting their missed rent and broken agreement to credit repositories. 

You can also turn the tenant’s debt over to a collection agency. Even if they don’t pay it, it’ll show up on their credit report and affect their credit score. 

Finally, depending on the state you live in, you might be able to file an eviction with your county courthouse. This will also show up on the tenant’s credit report under Public Records. 

Before seeking legal action, try to save yourself the headache and fees. Consider contacting the tenant to let them know the action you’ll be pursuing if they don’t settle their agreement with you. Ask your attorney if this is advisable before doing so. 

How to find tenants that finish their lease terms

While it’s impossible to know if a prospective tenant will one day request a lease termination or leave early without notice, there are measures you can put in place to set yourself up for success. 

That’s why it’s pivotal to know how to generate real estate leads that have a better chance of becoming long-term renters.

For instance …

When creating your marketing and outreach plan, publish plenty of educational guides or create animated videos to help potential tenants understand what’s expected of them. 

Educate them on the consequences of leaving prematurely, discuss credit-boosting tips, and give actionable strategies for saving for emergencies (like job losses). If a potential tenant finds you based on this content, you’ll know they’ve read your advice and understand what you expect as a landlord. 

Here are some outlets you can use to share and discuss your educational tips with potential leads:

A list about how to find real estate leads.

(Image Source)

You might also consider tightening up your screening process. 

Conduct advanced credit checks and rental history checks, and try meeting with prospects before approvals to understand their rental needs. Meet in person, if possible, or host a video meeting or phone call. 

Dig a bit deeper to understand their living situation, but keep it professional. Did they just move here? Are they looking to put down roots for a while? Are they in a transitional phase in their lives? 

Regardless, make sure applicants understand the termination clause in your lease agreement. Your goal as a landlord is to build long-term relationships with tenants whenever possible — without putting yourself (or them) at risk or in legal trouble. 

By being proactive in your approach, you can do your due diligence to attract real estate leads that:

  • Pay rent on time
  • Become loyal tenants
  • Finish their lease agreements 
  • Give you proper notice and pay all fees if they need to end a lease

Wrap up 

Knowing state laws, showing compassion, and staying professional are some of the best ways to succeed as a landlord. 

By understanding the law and consulting with an attorney, you can protect yourself and your business from legal trouble and lost profits. Staying professional by including a termination clause and educating your tenants and real estate leads helps you remain proactive. 

By conducting advanced screening processes and understanding a prospect’s living situation, you can do your part to prevent early lease terminations.

And if you need an app that can help …

You’ll love our all-in-one property management software for landlords. 

Collect mobile and online rent payments, list properties, screen tenants, and sign leases. Each plan comes with unlimited units, tenants, and amazing customer support. Try the demo or get started today.

Editor’s Note: Always speak with a legal professional about your rights and options as a landlord. Landlord-tenant laws vary by state and can change over time. 

Here’s to your success!

About the Author

Vergine Melkonyan: Content Writer / Marketing Specialist @ RenderForest. Experienced in writing SaaS and marketing content, helps customers to easily perform web scrapings, automate time-consuming tasks, and be informed about the latest tech trends with step-by-step tutorials and insider articles.