Most states in the U.S. have laws that allow a tenant to break their lease if the rental has become unlivable.
"Constructive eviction" is a legal concept that allows a tenant to leave their rental and stop paying rent without any penalties. Although these laws vary from state to state, generally they apply in one of two scenarios: either the unit is uninhabitable or the landlord is seriously disrupting a tenant's ability to enjoy their rental.
Landlords can't violate a tenant's "warranty of habitability"
A tenant can claim constructive eviction if the conditions of their rental unit are unsafe or unhealthy—in legal terms, a breach of the implied warranty of habitability. All states have their own definition of what specifically makes a unit fit or unfit for a tenant to live in, but it's generally safe to assume that includes functional plumbing, heat, and electricity, as well as running water and protection from the elements. If a rental unit lacks these things, it isn't habitable and a tenant can leave.
Landlord's can't violate a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment
The second scenario for constructive eviction is when a landlord violates their tenant's right to quiet enjoyment. If a landlord (or anyone else) claims interest in a rental by, for example, demanding to use it even if the tenant doesn't want them to, this would be breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Quiet enjoyment, like the warranty of habitability, is implied in every rental lease. If a lease says anything to contrary, then it is not valid.
Constructive eviction isn't a tenant's only option
If a tenant doesn't want to leave—and the problem isn't life-threatening—they could consider staying and withholding rent until the issue is repaired. Alternately, they could fix the problem themselves and deduct it from the rent.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.