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Legal grounds for breaking a lease

As a renter, you may want to break a lease for any number of reasons, but because a lease is a legally binding contract, you may not end it simply because you desire to do so. On the contrary, there are several distinct circumstances under which you may be able to lawfully terminate a lease agreement.

More specifically, you may be able to terminate your rental agreement if:

You are a victim of domestic violence

If you rent a property in New York and many other states and you are a victim of domestic violence, this may constitute legal grounds for terminating your lease. Generally, your victimization must have occurred within the recent past, and you must, in most cases, give your landlord 30 days’ notice of your plans to vacate because of the domestic violence. Please note that your landlord may be within his or her right to request proof of your victimization, perhaps in the form of a police report.

Your rental unit is uninhabitable

Your landlord has a duty to keep your rental home inhabitable, and this means the property must adhere to all electrical, safety and building codes. It must also have designated areas for trash and running water, and if any common areas exist, these areas, too, must remain in good repair. If the space your landlord provides to you fails in any of these areas, you may be able to legally terminate your lease.

You are an active member of the military.

If you are an active member of the military and you sign a lease shortly before you receive orders to relocate somewhere for 90 days or more, you may be able to provide your landlord with a written notice of your plans to vacate. Your landlord must typically, under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, allow you to get out of the lease, provided you submit your notification that you plan to leave within a certain timeframe (usually about 30 days ahead of time).

While these scenarios provide examples of some of the ways in which you can lawfully break your lease, this is not an exhaustive list.

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