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How to Break a Lease with No Penalty Fees in Texas

Breaking a lease early in Texas usually means paying your landlord a reletting fee—but not always.

Unfortunately, Texas tenants hoping to break their lease early don't have a lot of legal leverage. Your landlord isn't required to let you terminate your lease, except in a handful of very specific scenarios. So, even if your landlord agrees to let you out of the agreement, there's a good chance it will cost you.

But if you go into the process with a thorough knowledge of Texas rental law—and a strong argument for why you need to move out—there's a chance you can break a lease with a reduced fee (or, if you're lucky, no fee at all). Read through the tactics below and decide if one or more of them could work for you.

Make sure this is the best option for you

If you’re dead-set on leaving your rental without paying a fee, your best bet is to either find a subletter or transfer your lease. Why? Except in a handful of scenarios, landlords in Texas aren’t legally required to let you out of your lease early—which means they often charge big lease break fees in return. So make sure you’ve weighed your options for getting out of a lease early before moving forward with the lease-breaking process.

Figure out if you can break your lease under Texas law

In Texas, there are a few scenarios where renters are allowed to break their lease early without a landlord’s agreement. According to federal and state law, you can automatically terminate your lease if:

  • You are entering active military duty
  • Your landlord has refused to make a major repair and your rental has become uninhabitable
  • Your landlord has cut off your utilities
  • Your landlord has removed windows, doors, appliances, or fixtures for any reason other than repairs
  • Your landlord changed the locks on your rental for any reason other than nonpayment of rent
  • You’re the victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault
  • Your roommate has committed a violent crime against you
  • Your landlord has violated your privacy or harassed you

There are a lot of other reasons to break a lease: buying a house, relocating for a job, or even going through a breakup. None of these are covered by the law, however. Instead, you'll need to double-check your lease.

Re-read your lease agreement

Check your lease carefully to see if it mentions any situation where you might be allowed to terminate your lease early. There's a small chance that it includes a clause about family emergencies or deaths, or even a sudden job loss or relocation. What's more likely is that your lease lays out the process early termination, including how much you’ll have to pay in "reletting fees"—a term that refers to the landlord's costs resulting from an early move out. Reletting fees are allowed under Texas state law, but they can't be so high they would be considered excessive by a judge. (As a point of reference, the Texas Apartment Association's standard lease sets reletting fees at 85% of a month's rent.1)

Negotiate with your landlord

If your situation isn’t covered by the law or your lease, then you’ll need to talk to your landlord. Make it clear to them that the situation is out of your control. Even better if you can back up your story with hard evidence, such as a letter from an employer or a doctor's note testifying that your parents are seriously ill.

You can also approach negotiations from another angle: could your lease break actually benefit your landlord in some way? For example, do units in your area rent for even more now than you're currently paying? You'll probably be more successful if you rent from a private landlord, rather than a large management company with less flexibility.

Move out and hope your landlord re-rents quickly

If your negotiation isn’t going as well as you hoped—and you live in a neighborhood or city that's popular with renters—then you may be better off relying on something called "damage mitigation." Under Texas law, a landlord is required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent your unit if you move out early. They can only charge you for the time that it wasn't occupied by a new tenant.

Imagine that you move out on May 31st with nine months left on your lease. Your landlord advertises your empty rental (as required by law) and finds a replacement tenant to move in on July 1st. You only owe rent for the month of June—you're now off the hook for the other eight months.

If you know that you’ll be leaving a month or two in advance, you can give your landlord the heads up so they can get started showing the place. You can also search for a new tenant yourself and refer them to the landlord—if you can get someone lined up to move in as soon as you move out, you may not owe anything to your landlord at all. Just make sure the applicant is as qualified as you when it comes to income and credit history. Otherwise your landlord can legally reject their rental application.

Make it official with paperwork

Congratulations! You've been able to work something out with your landlord. Now make sure to get it in writing. The best way to do this is to prepare a document—often called a "mutual termination of tenancy agreement"—that outlines the specifics of your arrangement with your landlord. This ensures your landlord won't change their mind and try to hold you accountable for any additional rent under your original lease.

[1] "Apartment Lease Contract" (Texas Apartment Association)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.