A person who is their own lawyer… has a fool for a client.~Proverb
We are all engaged in some type of contractually binding agreement. We enter into agreements for utilities, our mobile devices, cable, insurance, data… and the list goes on. We get charged late fees, early termination fees and processing fees (whatever those are). All written in the fine print of the agreements we voluntarily enter into.
But, without a doubt, the largest agreement for many people is a rental agreement for their apartment or house. Signing the rental agreement is the easy part. Everyone is usually happy with the terms. The landlord has a paying tenant for a specified period of time (usually one year)… and the tenant has a place to call home. Most rental agreements go without incident. The tenant stays until the rental term ends, then either leaves or enters into an additional agreement with the landlord. Some renters become first time home buyers, which is always a good thing.
Sometimes, Life Happens
However, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re considering breaking your rental agreement and leaving early. But before you decide to pack up and vacate the premises, the first thing you should do is contact an attorney.
We’ll say it again: Before breaking your rental agreement, the best advice is to contact an attorney. Breaking a rental agreement is no small matter. The process is fraught with several laws and regulations that are best left to the legal experts. Making a mistake could end up costing thousands of dollars for damages.
Below, we offer some information to help you understand potential circumstances that may lead you to seek the help of legal counsel. This should in no way be interpreted as legal advice.
The Potential Dangers Of Breaking Your Rental Agreement
Most rental agreements have “termination” language. It’s best for an attorney to advise you about what the language means.
For the most part, rental agreements specify that the tenant will pay [monthly] rent until the end of the specified term. Say, for example, you started renting on January 1… and you are obligated to pay through December of that year. If you decide to break your rental agreement and leave in June, you could still be obligated to pay the entire lease agreement. That’s an additional six months’ rent you could be on the hook for.
Not only might you be obligated to pay the additional months of rent, you could also find yourself in court paying interest and other fees.
However, North Carolina requires landlords to “mitigate” damages in the event you terminate your lease agreement without justification. This means that if you terminate your agreement, the landlord must use reasonable efforts to rent your place after you leave. Therefore, if the landlord finds a new tenant within two months, you may only be liable for two months of rent, instead of six. However, once again, there are laws and regulations that govern these actions, and it is best to consult with an attorney.
First, Try To Work It Out
If you find yourself thinking about walking away from your rental agreement, a simple approach might be to talk to your landlord and see if you can work something out. For instance, if you have to leave a couple months early, speaking with them six months in advance is better than waiting until a week before you leave. This will give the landlord an opportunity to find a new tenant… Giving advance notice will also provide an opportunity for you to work something out — before getting the attorneys involved.
Communication up front and early could be one of the best practices. Maybe there are several potential clients waiting to get into an apartment (and the landlord could move them up on the list with enough notice).
Valid Reasons For Breaking Your Rental Agreement In North Carolina
In North Carolina there are a few valid reasons that allow tenants to terminate a lease agreement early—and without penalty.
- Starting active military duty or permanent change orders
There are two ways military members may terminate their lease. You may legally terminate a lease signed prior to entering active duty, as long as you will be on active duty for a minimum of 90 days. The second situation applies to military personnel who receive permanent change of station or deployment orders lasting more than 90 days. As long as you provide 30 days’ notice, in both of these situations your rental agreement will be terminated without penalty. You must also deliver a copy of the active duty, change of station or deployment orders to your landlord. The lease should terminate 30 days after the next scheduled rental payment. (To make sure you are in compliance with the law, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney).
- Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking
North Carolina laws allow a tenant to terminate a lease if they are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. In general, the person must obtain an official (final) order of protection and provide the paperwork to the landlord. This procedure has many different legal requirements, and we advise speaking to an attorney about when using this procedure.
- The rental unit is unsafe, uninhabitable or violates safety codes
It is best to speak with an attorney about what constitutes “unsafe” or “uninhabitable” conditions. In general, these conditions must be something large such as having no heat (for days or weeks). However, a landlord may also have an opportunity to fix some problems. This is where an attorney’s expert advice would be helpful.
- Other potential legal causes
There are several additional ways a tenant may terminate a lease. For example, if a landlord violates the terms of the rental agreement, harasses or violates your privacy rights. Each of these may all give rise to a legal reason to terminate a rental agreement, but please consult an attorney.
good living simplified.