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Colorado Laws About Breaking a Lease

Colorado law mentions several specific circumstances in which a tenant can end a lease early without their landlord’s agreement—and without any penalty fees.

Colorado law lays out, in clear language, the circumstances in which a tenant may end a lease early and not be penalized for doing so. For instance, tenants in uninhabitable rental units can break a lease relatively quickly and easily. Note, however, that Colorado law does not ban lease break provisions—so if a unit is livable, a tenant may be on the hook for a predetermined early termination fee.

Tenants and landlords can negotiate ending a lease

There are quite a few reasons a tenant may want to break a lease, and a lot of them don’t involve an actual problem with the unit or the landlord. A tenant could get a new job, go through a breakup, or just end up finding another apartment that better suits their needs. In these cases, the best way to end a lease is to reach out to a landlord and negotiate a termination.

Tenants should reach out to their landlords as soon as they think they may need to end a lease early. They should also work to find a replacement tenant who would be willing to sign a new lease. Landlords and tenants can also negotiate a lease break fee, if one is not included in the lease.

Leases can include lease-break provisions

Colorado law does not stop landlords from including lease-break provisions in leases. These clauses detail what will happen in the event that a tenant ends a lease early, and usually involve the tenant paying a predetermined amount of money as a penalty. Tenants should check their leases to see if there is any specific penalty they must pay if they choose to break a lease early.

Tenants can terminate their lease if their unit is uninhabitable

Colorado law states that in every agreement concerning the rental of residential property, there is an implied warranty of habitability.1 This is a guarantee that Colorado landlords will keep their rental units in livable condition (which generally involves maintenance and upkeep).

Colorado law has very specific requirements for a property to be considered habitable, including heat, running water, locking doors and windows, and more.2 If a rental unit doesn’t meet these requirements, a tenant may be able to terminate a lease—as long as they follow the correct process laid out in the law:

  1. The tenant must notify their landlord in writing of the problem that needs to be repaired.
  2. The landlord has five business days to fix the problem.
  3. If the landlord hasn’t repaired the condition after five business days, the tenant can legally break their lease—although they have to wait at least 10 days to do it. The lease can only be officially terminated 10-30 days after the end of the landlord’s five-day “fix it” period.3 For example: if a landlord was supposed to repair a shattered window by April 5th and failed to do so, then a tenant could officially terminate their lease as early as April 15th, or as late as May 5th.
  4. To fully terminate the lease, the tenant must actually vacate the unit. Once they have done so, the lease is over and they don't owe any additional rent.

What happens if the landlord fixes the condition more than five business days after being notified, but before the tenant has vacated? Technically, the tenant is still free to end the lease and vacate the unit.

There are two other things to keep in mind about this process. First, a tenant must allow the landlord access to the unit to make the requested repairs. If they don’t, they lose their right to break the lease. Second, the problem with the unit can’t have been caused by the tenant. So, if the tenant took a sledgehammer to the floors, they can’t turn around and use the condition of the floors to end the lease early.4

If a landlord doesn’t fix a gas leak, the tenant can end a lease right away

If a tenant notices a gas leak in a rental unit, they are legally obligated to inform their landlord right away, in writing. The landlord has 72 hours, not including weekends and holidays, to ensure that the gas leak is fixed. If the landlord doesn’t fix it within this time, the tenant can vacate the unit and terminate the lease without penalty.5

Victims of domestic violence have special termination rights

In Colorado, a tenant who has been the victim of domestic violence or domestic abuse may terminate their lease immediately after notifying their landlord.6 The tenant must notify the landlord of their intention to end the lease in writing, and provide the landlord with either a police report written in the last 60 days, or a valid, active order of protection.

Although this offers tenants dealing with domestic violence some protection, they’re still required to pay the landlord the equivalent of one month’s rent after they end the lease—a sort of modified penalty fee. The landlord is allowed to keep the tenant’s security deposit to cover this fee, instead of requiring a separate payment.

Federal law allows some service members to terminate leases early

As per the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, members of the U.S. armed forces may terminate residential leases if they are deployed to active duty during a lease period, or if they are deployed to a different location for at least 90 days.7 Colorado (unlike a number of other states) has no specific laws expanding on these federal rights.

Colorado landlords have a duty to mitigate according to the courts

Many states have a so-called “duty to mitigate” imposed on landlords. This means that a landlord must take reasonable steps to re-rent a unit that a tenant has moved out early, instead of letting it sit empty and forcing the original tenant to pay the rest of the rent due under their lease. Although Colorado law contains no such provision, state courts have found that such a duty exists under general principles of contract law.8

So, a Colorado landlord who has been informed that a tenant has vacated a unit early must try and re-rent that unit. If the landlord doesn’t make a real, good-faith attempt to find a replacement tenant, they can’t collect unpaid rent from the vacating tenant. However, the landlord doesn’t have to actually find a new tenant to be following the law—they just need to make a reasonable effort to look for one.

[1] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-503

[2] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-505

[3] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-507

[4] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-508

[5] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-104

[6] Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-12-402

[7] Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

[8] Schneiker v. Gordon, Supreme Court of Colorado

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