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When Is It Too Late to Get Out of a Lease?

You thought you had the perfect apartment; and then the late-night house parties started upstairs. Or you didn't realize the next-door neighbor's chickens (free eggs!) love to get going promptly at 5 a.m. (free rooster alarm clock!). Or that awesome warehouse loft was just what you wanted when you saw it over the weekend, before you smelled the nearby refinery first thing Monday morning.

Whether it was an unforeseen condition or an unscrupulous landlord, you're already thinking about getting out of your lease. But once you sign on the dotted line, are you locked in for the next six months or *gasp* a whole year?

Don't worry -- there may be ways to get out of your rental lease ... if it's not too late.

Contracts, Breaches, and Bailing on a Lease

As with just about any contract, your lease takes effect as soon as you sign it. So, if you haven't signed a lease or rental agreement yet, good news -- it's not too late to get out of a bad apartment or house. (Oral agreements to rent real estate are generally unenforceable unless you've already begun paying rent and/or moved into the property.) Once you have signed a lease, things get a little more complicated.

Yes, you're contractually obligated to pay rent for the term of the lease. But you should've noticed that your lease also places some legal obligations on your landlord as well. (You did read the lease, before you signed it, right? Please tell us you read the lease.)

Anyway, if you've already signed the lease, you may be able to terminate it early if the landlord violates the terms of the lease. Violations of health and safety codes, like failing to provide water, heat, or other essential elements, can cause a "constructive eviction," giving you no choice but to move out. Your lease also probably includes a "quiet enjoyment" clause, meaning the landlord must make sure other tenants aren't being too noisy or otherwise impeding upon other your quiet enjoyment rights. A landlord's breach of this duty could also be grounds for a tenant to break her lease.

Statutory Tenant Safeguards

There could also be statutes that allow you to leave early without penalty. Military personnel are usually permitted to break a lease if their called to active duty. State or local statutes can also provide legal protection if your rental property becomes uninhabitable due to a natural disaster. Finally, if you're able to find someone to whom to sublet or who will assume the same terms of the lease, local housing ordinances generally require landlords to accept the new tenant, if it's not expressly forbidden in the lease.

If you're wondering if it's too late to get out of a rental lease, start by checking your lease first -- make sure your landlord has lived up to their end of the bargain, determine whether early exit is permitted under the lease, and find out what the penalties for breaching the lease may be. Then talk to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area.

Christopher Coble, Esq.

10 Things You Need to Have in a Rental Lease Agreement

If you are new to leasing investment property to tenants, you need to be sure that your rental lease agreement covers all the bases so you can protect your investment properly.  Here are 10 terms you will definitely need to include in your rental lease agreement:

1.Names of all adult tenants and parties to the agreement.  If there is more than one adult tenant occupying the property, be sure to include the names of all adult tenants in the agreement. This will ensure that all adults who will be living on your property are responsible for living up to the terms of the agreement, including the payment of rent. It also provides you with the right to terminate the agreement if any of the tenants violates the lease terms.2. Tenancy and termination terms.  Specify the length of the agreement — whether it is month-to-month or for a fixed term. Typically, lease terms are for one year with options to renew. Specify the termination options for all parties as well.

3. Rent amount.  Detail the amount of the rent, when the rent is due and the forms of payment you will accept.

4. Subleasing and occupancy limits.  Make it clear that only those who have signed the lease, along with their minor children, may occupy the property.  Also include whether or not you will allow tenants to sublease — and if you do, be sure to include that subleasing is only allowed with your prior approval.

5. Security deposits.  Probably one of the single largest sources of disagreements between landlords and tenants has to do with security deposits. To protect yourself, be sure you detail exactly how the property must be left at the end of the lease in order for the tenant to receive his or her security deposit back. Florida law on security deposits specifies that these must be returned within 15-60 days after the tenant has left and returned the keys to you. If there are deductions, you must notify your former tenant in advance and provide details on those deductions. Florida has other laws regarding security deposits, so it is wise to check with a Florida real estate attorney for the proper notice in your rental lease agreement.

6. Repairs/maintenance.  The terms of your agreement should specify the maintenance obligations for you and your tenant, and require that your tenant notifies you immediately of any repairs that need to be made to the property.

7. Entry rights.  Your agreement should detail the conditions under which you are permitted to enter the property and what kind of notice is required before you do. Florida law allows landlords to enter a rental lease property in the case of an emergency, to make needed repairs or inspections, to show the property to prospective new tenants or contractors, if there is reasonable cause to believe a tenant has abandoned the property, and pursuant to a court order. Unless it’s an emergency, you must give your tenant 12 hours’ notice of your intent to enter and do so at a reasonable time, which has been defined as between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.

8. Prohibited behavior.  You obviously don’t want someone dealing drugs out of your rental lease property and you probably don’t want noisy tenants either. Whatever your criteria for prohibited behavior, spell it out in your lease agreement.

9. Pets.  You should state whether or not you allow pets and any restrictions as to the size or number of pets allowed or if you charge a pet deposit or fee.

10. Damages/alterations.  Your agreement should specify who is responsible for damages to the property as well as what types of alterations — if any — a tenant may make to the property and whether your permission or approval is necessary to make those alterations.

About Stefan McHardy: Stefan is a Florida licensed attorney, real estate agent and a foreclosure auction investment specialist.  He practices in the areas of real estate, foreclosure, business litigation, and contract law from his Pembroke Pines and Miami Beach offices.  He frequently consults on general real estate and investing matters.  You can find out more about Stefan at DSALegalGroup.com/stefan or by visiting StefanMcHardy.com