Tenants who are looking for new places to live will often enter into lease agreements with their landlords before moving into the unit.
These agreements state the exact terms of the rental relationship, such as the amount of rent the tenant will pay and how long they’ll live there before signing a new lease.
A lease agreement will also spell out the exact responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord for the duration of the lease.
But what if circumstances force you to move out before your lease is up? Are there ways to legally break your lease?
In this article, we’ll discuss the very specific situations in which you can break your lease without penalty in Virginia.
When is it Legal to Break a Lease in Virginia?
Generally speaking, if you break your lease you will be responsible for paying rent for the remaining months of the lease’s term unless your case meets one of the very specific circumstances outlined in the Virginia Code.
Leases are legally binding contracts, and breaking them without a reason can lead to costly penalties.
However, Virginia law allows for a few specific cases where you can break your lease without penalty.
For example, renters in Virginia may be able to break their lease in situations where:
- The unit is unsafe or otherwise uninhabitable, such as if it has a significant infestation or large amounts of toxic mold.
- The landlord consistently violates the tenant’s right to privacy, such as if they regularly enter the unit without notice.
- The renter is called up for military service and has to ship out on short notice.
- The renter is the victim of domestic violence and needs to escape the situation.
While there are a few other reasons to break a lease, these are the big ones that we’ll outline below.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s generally wise to speak to an attorney before you break your lease, even if your situation falls under one of these scenarios.
Only an attorney can tell you if your action of breaking the lease is justifiable under current Virginia laws.
Unsafe or Uninhabitable Conditions
According to Virginia law, landlords must keep their rental units up to code.
This means that your landlord must make sure that the unit is safe to live in.
For example, the smoke detectors must be working, electrical problems should be fixed right away, locks on windows and doors must be secure, and mold and pests should be kept under control.
Note, however, that the burden to break your lease for poor living conditions is very high in Virginia.
The unsafe conditions must be such that would lead a court to determine you have been “constructively evicted.”
In other words, the conditions must be so bad that you cannot safely live in the unit.
If you believe that your unit is unsafe or uninhabitable, you should first consult with a lawyer to determine if you qualify.
Even if you do, you’ll have to follow the proper procedures before moving forward with your case.
For example, the first thing you’ll have to do is notify your landlord of the problem(s) in writing and give them a reasonable amount of time to fix it.
“Reasonable time” is a requirement that depends on the situation.
If it’s an emergency, such as a lack of heat or water, the landlord must fix it immediately.
For other repairs, you can state a reasonable time frame to fix it in your letter (such as a few days or weeks).
If you follow these procedures and your landlord still doesn’t act, you may be able to break the lease and move away.
However, you still have to give them 30 days notice of your intent to vacate in writing.
Violation of Privacy
Even if they own the property, your landlord doesn’t have the right to enter your unit whenever they want.
Except for an emergency or scheduled maintenance, your landlord must give you at least 24 hours of notice before entering the rental unit.
If your landlord repeatedly violates your privacy by entering your unit, you may be able to break your lease without penalty.
However, it’s best to consult with a lawyer before doing so.
Since these cases are so fact-specific, you’ll want to make sure you do everything by the book.
Otherwise, you may face penalties for breaking the lease.
The standard for terminating your lease on these grounds is essentially the same as above.
You must be able to show that your landlord has effectively rendered the unit unlivable, meaning he or she has “constructively evicted” you.
That means you’re out of the unit through no fault of your
If the government calls you to active military service after you sign a lease, you can break your lease without penalty.
This is a right covered by federal law.
To break your lease, you’ll have to submit written notice to your landlord.
Then, your lease will expire 30 days after the date your next rent payment is due.
If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, Virginia law gives you an escape clause in your lease.
However, you must provide certain documentation to your landlord, such as a protective order and/or proof that the perpetrator has been charged with a crime.
In this case, the landlord may decide to sue the perpetrator for the unpaid rent instead of coming after both of you.
What if I still need to break the lease?
If you don’t meet any of the requirements above, but you leave before your lease is over, you’re legally responsible for paying the rent for the months that remain on your lease.
The only way to avoid paying that rent is to find someone else to rent your unit.
However, under Virginia law, your landlord does have certain obligations in this situation.
Specifically, they must make “reasonable efforts” to rent any available units, and can’t just sit and wait for a lease to run out while continuing to charge you.
If a landlord is able to re-rent your unit, you will only be on the hook for the money they lost as a direct result of the broken lease.
A lease is a legal contract between a landlord and a tenant.
As such, moving out before the end of your lease (and refusing to pay) counts as breaking this contract.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you avoid breaking your lease if at all possible.
Specifically, the Virginia Code allows for a few specific circumstances in which you can legally break your lease without paying any damages, such as military deployment or unsafe conditions in the rental unit.
Note, however, that in these situations highly recommended that you consult with an attorney first, as the outcome of your case will depend heavily on the facts of your case.
Only an attorney who has reviewed the entire matter can advise you on the best course of action in your particular situation.