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Texas Laws About Breaking a Lease

Texas law allows certain tenants to end a lease agreement early without penalty. Otherwise, renters are free to try and negotiate a lease termination with their landlord.

A lease is a binding contract. Like all other contracts, it is not designed to be easily broken. Other than a few specific situations—such as when a landlord shuts off utilities, or military deployment—Texas law doesn’t allow tenants to end a lease without going to court. If a renter has to leave their unit before the lease is up, landlords are required to look for a replacement tenant rather than letting the apartment sit empty to try (hopefully reducing the amount of damages the original tenant has to pay).

Leases can always be ended by mutual agreement

Before Texas tenants involve the court system in trying to break a lease, the best move may be to simply speak to the landlord. While leases are binding contracts, they can be ended at any time if both the landlord and tenant agree to it (typically in writing). A tenant who needs to move and is willing to work with their landlord to find a replacement may be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable way to end a lease.

Leases can contain certain fees for early termination

Texas courts allow landlords to charge so-called “reletting fees,” which are the landlord’s costs resulting from an early lease termination.1 While there is no specific Texas law governing how much these fees can be, excessive fees unrelated to actual early termination expenses may be struck down by a court. Tenants should consult a lawyer if they feel their lease contains an abnormally high penalty for early termination.

Tenants can terminate a lease when their rental is unlivable

Unlike many states, Texas law actually allows a tenant to unilaterally end a lease when a landlord has failed to keep the rental unit in good shape.2 This happens when they breach something called the “warranty of habitability.” If a landlord doesn’t repair the breach within a reasonable period of time—typically seven days in Texas—a tenant can legally terminate their lease.

Victims of domestic violence can terminate their lease

Texas law allows victims of domestic violence to unilaterally end their lease.3 A tenant who has been the victim of domestic violence should obtain either a court document, such as an order of protection, or a letter from a healthcare provider or advocate for victims of domestic violence, and provide that documentation to their landlord along with a notice that the tenant seeks to end the lease. If the abuser doesn't live with the tenant, the tenant must give the landlord at least 30 days’ notice before terminating the lease. Otherwise, the tenant can leave immediately.

Tenants who follow this procedure are not liable for future rent. Also, any unpaid rent accrued to that point will be wiped clean, meaning the tenant will not have to pay any back rent owed.

These provisions also apply to tenants who are the victims of stalking offenses, or sexual assault, or who are the parents or legal guardians of such victims.4

Tenants can also break a lease if their roommate assaults them

Texas’ definition of “family violence” is pretty broad—it includes everyone who lives in the same household, even if they’re not actually related.5 That means the same protections apply to tenants who are the victim of a violent crime committed by their roommate as to those who are the victim of a violent crime committed by their spouse.

Deployed or reassigned service members can terminate a lease

Tenants in Texas who are members of the military have very strong rights, even stronger than those under the national law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. If a tenant (or a tenant’s legal dependent) is a member of the military who is either reassigned to a new base or deployed to a new location for more than 90 days, they may break a lease unilaterally.6 The tenant or dependent must provide a landlord with a copy of the official military orders and a written notice that they are moving out. The lease is then immediately terminated, and the tenant has a right to a refund of any prepaid rent for the time in which they will not be living in the unit.

Tenants can terminate a lease when a landlord cuts off utilities or locks them out

If a landlord cuts off a tenant’s utilities—such as water, heat, or electricity—the tenant has a right to unilaterally cancel a lease.7 The same is true if a landlord removes a window, door, appliance, or fixture for any purpose other than a repair (in which case a replacement must be provided). A tenant can also terminate their lease if a landlord changes the locks on their rental for any reason other than nonpayment of rent. Even then, the landlord must provide a tenant with the ability to quickly get a new key, regardless of payment.8

The law is strict in these cases and doesn’t require the tenant to provide any notice to the landlord (although it’s best practice to do so). The landlord’s only defense is that they shut off the utilities for a legitimate reason, such as construction or maintenance.

If a tenant dies their representative can terminate the lease

If the sole tenant of a rental unit dies before the lease is over then their representative can end the lease and avoid all future liability as long as they send written notice to the landlord, remove the deceased tenant's property, and sign an inventory of the removed property if asked.

When this happens, the lease ends on either the 30th day after the date of their written notice or the date when they've met all of the conditions - whichever comes later. In this situation, the landlord is required to provide a copy of the written lease agreement to the tenant's representative.10 v

Landlords must look for a replacement if a tenant vacates early

Texas courts recognize a so-called “duty to mitigate.”9 This means that if a tenant terminates a lease early and vacates a rental unit, the landlord has a duty to try and rent out that unit to a new tenant. If the landlord doesn’t attempt to find a replacement tenant, they can’t sue the vacating tenant for the unpaid rent. Note that a landlord does not have a duty to actually find a new tenant—only to perform a diligent search for one.11

If the landlord fails to provide correct ownership or management information then a tenant can terminate the lease

Landlords in Texas are required under statute 92.205 to provide tenants with accurate contact and identity information about who owns the rental unit and who currently manages the rental unit. If a tenant requests this information and it isn't provided to them, or if that information is incorrect, then the tenant can unilaterally terminate the lease without a court proceeding. This is not the case if the tenant owes any rent. 12

[1] Austin Hill Country Realty v. Palisades Plaza, Supreme Court of Texas

[2] Texas Property Code § 92-056

[3] Texas Property Code § 92-016

[4] Texas Property Code § 92-0161

[5] V.T.C.A., Family Code § 71.004

[6] Texas Property Code § 92-017

[7] Texas Property Code § 92-008

[8] Texas Property Code § 92.0081

[10] Texas Property Code § 92.0162

[11] Cotter v. Todd, Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio (2002)

[12] Texas Property Code § 92.205

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