A lease is a binding contract—and, like all contracts, it's not supposed to be easy to break. But Florida, in particular, is stricter than many other states when it comes to terminating a lease. That means negotiating with a landlord is often the best way to try and end a lease early (at least in the Sunshine State).
Leases can always be ended by mutual agreement
Before Florida tenants involve the court system, the best move is just to talk to the landlord. While leases are binding contracts, they can be undone at any time if both parties agree. A tenant who needs to move—and is willing to work with a landlord to find a replacement—may be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable way to end a lease. Given Florida’s strict laws around lease-breaking, this may be a tenant's best bet.
Lease-breaking clauses are legal in Florida
Landlords may insert lease-breaking clauses into rental agreements, although they are not legally required. These clauses can mandate both how much notice a tenant gives before terminating their lease early, and how much a landlord can charge for an early termination fee. The most notice a Florida tenant can be expected to give is 60 days, and the fee cannot be more than twice the monthly rent.1
“Constructive eviction” in Florida is rarely used for residential tenants
In most states, tenants can make a claim for “constructive eviction.” This means, essentially, that a landlord’s failure to keep their rental unit in livable condition was so egregious that a tenant was forced to move. When a court finds a constructive eviction has occurred, the lease is over.
The written laws of Florida contain no references to “constructive eviction” for residential tenants. There are almost no written court decisions dealing with constructive evictions for residential tenants. There is some case law indicating that Florida courts will recognize this sort of defense by a tenant, but it is by no means a “slam dunk,” or a settled area of law.2
Generally speaking, tenants who feel they have no other choice than to claim constructive eviction should be aware that they must actually vacate a residential property before making a constructive eviction claim. The tenant can no longer reside in the unit. Further, a tenant should be aware that a landlord’s violation must have caused the unit to become truly uninhabitable—for example, a refusal to fix broken plumbing, or a serious, ongoing insect infestation. A court will be more likely to find that a constructive eviction has occurred if a tenant can point to dangerous or unhealthy conditions in a rental unit.
Florida landlords also have a special defense against constructive eviction
If a Florida landlord fails to abide by their legal duties to keep a unit habitable3—such as providing heat and running water—the tenant must first notify the landlord of the problem and the intention to cease paying rent. The landlord has seven days to fix the problem.4 If they don’t, and the conditions render a rental unit “uninhabitable,” a tenant may unilaterally end a lease without penalty.5
However, under Florida law, a landlord can turn around and claim that they did, in fact, make reasonable efforts to repair the conditions, but simply could not because the issues were beyond their control or power to fix. If this is the case, the lease does not terminate—but the tenant isn’t liable for rent while the unit was uninhabitable.
Note that even in the above-described situations, a tenant who is sued for unpaid rent after moving out must pay that sum into a court registry, as security. That unpaid rent will sit in the registry until the case is over, and the court decides whether a tenant’s claims regarding a landlord’s breach are true and accurate. If the tenant wins, they will receive this rent back—but if a landlord wins, the rent will be paid to the landlord.
Victims of domestic violence can’t break their lease in Florida
Many states allow tenants who are the victims of domestic violence to immediately end a lease without penalty. Florida does not. A law has been proposed, but died in the Florida Legislature in 2017.6
Members of the military have additional protections when breaking a lease
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
Florida law expands these protections.8 It reduces the 90-day requirement for being deployed to 60 days. It also specifies that service members who must permanently move at least 35 miles away from their rental unit—or who enter government housing such as a military base—may terminate a lease without penalty.
Finally, it expands lease-breaking rights to service members who are prematurely or involuntarily discharged from active service during the lease period. The service member must provide at least 30 days’ notice to the landlord, as well as proof of their circumstances, which may come in the form of official orders from a commanding officer.
Florida landlords have options when dealing with abandoned rental units
Florida landlords have a variety of options as to how to proceed when a tenant has abandoned a rental unit:9
- A landlord may take no action at all, and continue to charge rent to the current tenant.
- A landlord may terminate the lease, in which case the tenant’s duties to pay rent are over.
- A landlord may retake possession of the unit, and try to rent it again, in which case, the tenant’s duties to pay rent are reduced by the amount of rent the landlord is receiving.
Note that if the landlord decides to retake possession (option 3), they have a legal duty make an effort to re-rent the unit—that is, they’re required to mitigate damages. They can't just retake the unit and leave it empty until the original tenant's lease is up. If they do, the tenant is not liable for any rent accrued during this period. However, a landlord in Florida can choose not to retake a unit, and to simply let it sit empty. In this case, the landlord has no duty to try and re-rent the unit—and can continue to charge the original tenant rent until their lease expires.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.