A lease is a contractually binding agreement. It requires a tenant to honor their rent obligations for the entire term, whether or not they live in the property you’ve rented out. There are some exceptions to this blanket rule, though, but discrimination is never one of them, as per the Fair Housing Law.
Each state sets different conditions and laws that allow a tenant to break their lease legally without penalty like a termination fee. Virginia state law is not any different. The following are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can break their lease legally without penalty in Virginia.
Legally Justified Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Virginia
The Lease Agreement Contains an Early Termination Clause
A landlord may permit their tenant to break their lease agreement through an early termination clause. In the clause, the landlord may want to address some of the following terms:
- Require the tenant to provide them advance written notice of at least 30 days prior to moving out
- Pay a penalty fee of between one-and-two months’ rent
- Clear all utility bills, as well as any other charges prior to vacating the premises
Draft this up with the proper legal terminology and include it clearly in the lease agreement. You, as the landlord, may also want to take each new tenant through each clause to make sure they understand everything.
The Landlord Fails to Provide Certain Disclosures
A landlord may face heavy fines or legal ramifications if their fail to provide their tenant with certain disclosures. And in some other cases, may provide the landlord’s tenant with a legal justification to end their lease early without penalty. The disclosures are as follows:
- Disclosure about defective drywall.
- Disclosure on whether you, the landlord, have any knowledge of the property being used to manufacture methamphetamine.
- A disclosure on whether the property is located near a military air installation.
The Tenant is Starting Active Military Duty
Virginia tenants who get deployed or receive a permanent change of station are protected from any rental penalties by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). In the state of Virginia, a service member must belong to either the armed forces, the activated National Guard, commissioned corps of the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service.
The act allows early termination in the following scenarios:
- The tenant started active military service during the lease
- The tenant signed the lease while still being active military personnel and received deployment orders for 90 days or more
- The tenant receives orders to relocate
In addition, your Virginia tenant must meet certain obligations. Firstly, they must provide their Virginia landlord with a copy of the official military orders. Secondly, they must provide written notice of their intention to move out. And thirdly, the tenant must satisfy their rent obligations for the month they serve the proper notice and for the next month.
Once your tenant has met all the aforementioned conditions, their lease will end 30 days after the next rent payment is due. The SCRA also covers tenants beyond their lease concerns. It applies in areas such as tax rights, insurance, contracts, interest rates, and judicial proceedings.
The Unit is No Longer Habitable
Most states in the country have specific health, safety, and structural codes that set the minimum standards for rental properties. The state of Virginia isn’t an exception. The VA Code § 55-225.3 highlights all responsibilities landlords in Virginia have in regard to providing a habitable rental property.
Once notified of those conditions by the tenant, the landlord must make the property repairs within a reasonable period of time. Specifically, a landlord must do them within a period of 30 days after receiving the notification of a rental issue. However, if the habitability issue in the rental unit impacts the tenant’s health or safety, then you, as the landlord, must carry out repairs within 24 hours.
If you don’t, your tenant may have several options to pursue besides terminating the lease. They may choose to sue you, the rental property owner, for any damages resulting from the habitability issue. Or, report you to public officials for violating a housing code. And while withholding rent and “repair and deduct” are options in some other states, they aren’t in Virginia.
An Action of Landlord Harassment is Committed
Landlord harassment occurs when a landlord creates conditions that are meant to force a tenant to move out. The following are some examples of how harassment by a landlord can occur in the state of Virginia:
- Failing to perform requested or needed maintenance tasks within a reasonable period of time.
- Withholding amenities that were promised in the lease agreement.
- Making up or exaggerating notices of improper conduct.
- Refusing or failing to acknowledge payment of rent by your tenant.
- Failing to minimize or remove a disruption or nuisance affecting your tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment.
- Deliberately causing damage to your tenant’s property.
- Threatening your tenant with financial injury by reporting them to a credit bureau.
- Refusing to provide your prior tenants with positive references when they are searching for their next apartment.
- Making threats or physically intimidating them with physical violence.
- Changing your tenant’s locks without their permission.
The Tenant is a Victim of Domestic Violence
The state of Virginia gives special rental provisions to tenants who have been domestic violence victims. One of these protections is being able to break their lease early without penalty.
They can break their lease early by serving their landlord with a 30 days advance notice. Additionally, you, the landlord, may also require that the tenant provide you with a copy of the conviction order or order of protection.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant
Virginia landlords have a duty to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant after a tenant breaks their lease or rental agreement early. In legal terms, this is referred to as a landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages.”
In addition to understanding leasing laws, landlords should stay informed of the state’s landlord-tenant laws, the legal eviction process, and security deposit laws.
If you’re a landlord you have a specific question regarding breaking a lease in Virginia or any other aspect of managing a rental property, Keyrenter Hampton Roads can help! We can make managing your Hampton Roads investment property a stress-free experience.
Disclaimer: This content isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney. The laws and regulations mentioned above are subject to change and this post may not be up-to-date at the time of your reading it.