First and foremost—what does breaking a lease mean? Basically, breaking a lease is when a tenant stops paying rent and moves out before the lease ends. Breaking a lease before it expires is often a serious violation of the Maryland lease agreement.
As a landlord, you’ll have various options to consider when a tenant breaks the lease. For example, you could withhold the tenant’s deposit and/or sue the tenant in court.
That said, whether or not to penalize a tenant depends upon the reason for breaking the lease. In some cases, the tenant’s action may be legally justified. For instance, breaking a lease is legal if your tenant is a serviceman and has been deployed or has received a change of station orders.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to legally break a lease in Maryland, or how tenants can break a lease in MD.
Legally Unjustifiable Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Maryland
Some reasons, however genuine they may seem, are simply not enough justification to break a lease. The reasons are as follows:
- Moving out to be closer to a new place of work or school
- Moving out to live in a newly-purchased house
- Vacating the premises to downgrade or upgrade
- Moving out to live with their significant other
If a tenant breaks a lease for any of the aforementioned reasons, they risk a number of consequences. As a landlord, you’ll be within your rights to:
- Sue them for any unpaid rent due under the Maryland lease agreement
- Deduct all or a portion of their security deposit to cover your liabilities
- Report the tenant to a credit reporting bureau like Equifax
Legally Valid Reasons for Breaking a Lease in MD
1. Your tenant uses an early termination clause.
Do you have an early termination clause in your Maryland lease agreement? If so, you cannot penalize a tenant for using it.
An early termination clause allows a tenant to terminate their lease early as long as they meet certain conditions. For example, they pay a fee and provide notice. In most cases, the fee is usually equivalent to two months of rent.
2. Your tenant is starting active military duty.
Is your tenant starting active military duty? If so, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows them to break a lease early.
The Act protects active service members who are breaking their leases as a result of deployment or changing their stations. To successfully break the lease, the tenant must do the following:
- Prove they signed the lease before entering active military duty
- Prove they intend to remain in active duty for a minimum of ninety days
- Serve you a written copy. The copy must be accompanied by the deployment letter
Even with these actions, the lease termination isn’t immediate. Once the tenant serves you the notice, the lease will terminate at least 30 days after the next rent period begins.
3. Your rental unit is no longer safe for occupation.
As a landlord, you have an obligation to make sure your property meets all Maryland Warranty of Habitability Standards. For instance, it can’t have:
- Unclean common areas
- Inadequate trash receptacles
- Unavailability of clean running water
- Existence of a serious and substantial structural defect that threatens the physical safety of the tenants.
- Existence of a condition that makes the unit a health or safety hazard.
By making your unit unlivable, a court would deem you to have “constructively” evicted your tenant. This doesn’t apply to squatters, however, who operate under a different set of legal requirements.
4. You violate rules of entry.
Maryland tenants have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their rented property. As a landlord, you can only enter during certain times and for certain reasons. Common reasons for landlord entry include:
- To perform maintenance and repairs
- To inspect the unit
- To show the property to prospective tenants, buyers and lenders
- When obtaining a court order that allows the landlord to enter the premises
- If the tenant abandons the unit
Most states have statutes defining how much notice a landlord must give a tenant prior to entering their units. The state of Maryland, however, doesn’t. Either way, most landlords do give their tenants some notice prior to entering their units. It fosters secure landlord-tenant relationships.
5. You harass your tenant.
You and your tenant may not always get along. That said, harassing your tenant is never an option. You may lose a good tenant, or even get sued in court.
Now, landlord harassment takes many different forms. The following are common examples:
- Entering rented premises without providing advance notice repeatedly
- Withholding amenities you promised in the lease or rental agreement
- Failing to respond to maintenance requests from your tenants
- Creating situations that cause your tenant emotional distress
- Refusing to accept or acknowledge a rent payment
- Serving your tenant an illegal eviction notice
- Making inappropriate comments about your tenant’s appearance. This may pass as sexual harassment
- Changing the terms of the lease without informing your tenant
- Changing the locks without your tenant’s permission
6. Your tenant is a victim of domestic violence.
Many states give domestic violence victims certain protections. Maryland isn’t an exception. Domestic violence, just like landlord harassment, can take many different forms. It can allude to:
- Stalking or cyberstalking
- Psychological abuse
- Economic abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
If your tenant is facing any of these, they can break the lease without further obligations under the lease.
Before breaking the lease, you can, however, require your tenant to show proof of domestic violence status. For example, you can ask for proof of a restraining order. (Md Real Property Code, 8-5A-03 and 8-5A-04).
Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages
As per Maryland lease break laws (Md. Code Ann., [Real Prop.] § 8-207), landlords have a duty to find a replacement tenant. Regardless of the reason for breaking a lease, you can’t just sit back and hope for the best. It’s your responsibility to make reasonable efforts to rent your unit.
This means that your tenant may be off the hook for paying all rent due under the lease. If either of you is successful in finding a replacement tenant, the tenant may only be responsible for paying rent for only the time the unit was vacant.
It’s not the end of the world for you when your tenant breaks their lease early. At worst, it may mean losing out on a couple of months’ rent. But at best, it could mean a better tenant and even higher rent. In this case, McKenna & Vane can help fulfill your rental needs.