A lease is a legally binding agreement between a landlord and their tenant, which is usually crafted to cover a period of one year. While many tenants who sign a lease typically stay for its duration, some don’t.
Life happens and, as a result, your Virginia tenant may have to break their lease. For example, your tenant may be a service member and receive deployment orders.
There are many reasons to break a lease. From a legal standpoint, informed by Virginia’s Landlord-Tenant Laws, you may or may not be able to penalize your tenant for breaking the lease agreement.
When is Breaking a Lease Legally Justified in Virginia?
The following are conditions that can permit a tenant to legally break a lease without penalty.
Active Military Duty
A tenant has a right to break their lease under federal law if they are starting active military duty. The Service members Civil Relief Act offers protections to members of the uniformed services.
Uniformed services include the following as per the aforementioned act.
- Armed Forces.
- Activated National Guard.
- Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service.
- Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The tenant seeking to terminate their lease for military reasons must provide the following to their landlord.
- A written notice of their intention to move out.
- Proof that their military assignment will last for at least ninety days.
- Official verification of the military orders.
Virginia law gives tenants who are subjected to domestic violence the right to terminate their lease. VA Code § 55-225.16 allows tenants to break their lease due to sexual abuse, family abuse, or criminal sexual assault.
The domestic violence victim must provide the landlord with a notice of at least 30 days prior to moving out. Also, the tenant must provide the landlord with proof of a restraining order or conviction order.
Your tenant can also break their lease if you fail to provide them with a habitable rental property. Under the Virginia Habitability law, landlords have a responsibility to provide a unit that has the following:
- Adequate trash receptacles.
- Working sanitary facilities.
- Functioning lighting, electrical, and plumbing systems.
- A working HVAC system.
- Running hot and cold water.
If you ignore repeated tenant requests to make repairs, your tenant can be considered constructively evicted, which is different from a standard tenant eviction. Consequently, they may no longer have a responsibility to abide by the lease agreement. (Va. Stat. Ann. § 55.1-1241 (2020)).
Privacy Rights Violations
Virginia tenants have a right to live in peace and quiet. As a landlord, Virginia laws require that you provide your tenant with a 24 hours advance notice prior to entering the rented premises.
Common reasons for landlord entry in the state of Virginia include:
- To make requested repairs or maintenance.
- To inspect the unit.
- Under court orders.
- To show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers.
- In an emergency.
- If you suspect the tenant has abandoned the property.
However, you don’t have to give your tenant any prior notice if they have requested maintenance (Va. Code Ann. §§ 55.1-1229, 55.1-1249 (2020)). You’re also not required to notify your tenant in the event of an emergency, under court orders, or if you suspect they have abandoned the property.
All forms of landlord harassment are illegal in the state of Virginia.
The following are some examples of actions that could constitute landlord harassment:
- Removing your tenant’s belongings from the property.
- Shutting down previously available utilities.
- Locking your tenant out of their rented premises.
- Refusing a rent payment.
- Making exaggerated claims of lease violations.
- Destroying your tenant’s personal belongings.
- Failing to perform requested repairs within a reasonable period of time.
- Threatening your tenant with financial injury.
Lease Agreement Violation
As a landlord, you have an obligation to abide by the terms of the lease agreement. If you don’t, you may give your tenant enough legal justification to break their lease. An example of a serious violation of the lease is failure to comply with material health and safety codes.
Virginia landlords are required by law to make certain disclosures to their tenants prior to the tenant’s move-in date. If you don’t, you risk heavy fines or serious legal ramifications.
The following are important disclosures you must provide your Virginia tenant.
- Disclosure of lead-based paint. This applies to all properties built prior to 1978.
- Disclosure of the move-in checklist. Landlords are required to provide their tenants with a checklist detailing the property’s condition prior to moving in.
- Disclosure of the names and addresses of parties tasked with the property’s management.
- Disclosure on whether the rental home is located adjacent to a “noise zone” or an “accident potential zone”.
- Disclosure of defective drywall.
- Disclosure on whether the unit has been used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
- Disclosure of the presence of mold.
- Disclosure of whether the unit is going to be demolished within 6 months.
When is Breaking a Lease Not Legally Justified?
The following reasons generally don’t offer enough justification to allow a tenant to break their lease.
- Relocating to a new job.
- Upgrading or downsizing.
- Moving in with a significant other.
- Moving to the new home they bought.
- Moving due to a divorce or separation.
Landlord’s Duty to Re-Rent in Virginia
Virginia landlords have a duty to mitigate damages after their tenant breaks a lease agreement. In other words, as a landlord, you must take reasonable steps to re-rent the unit.
You cannot just sit and wait for the lease to end and then charge your tenant for all the rent due under the lease.
Knowing how to properly handle a broken lease agreement in Virginia is a skill that comes with practice. If you’re feeling unsure about the above information, reach out to Dodson Property Management.
Our team is ready to make your property investment dreams a reality!
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney. Laws change and this information may not be updated at the time you read it. For expert legal help please get in touch with Dodson Property Management.