How to End Your Lease

A lease can terminate because:

  • An agreement of both parties,
  • Automatically when the lease ends, or
  • One of the parties breached (broke) the rules of a lease.


By agreement

A landlord and a tenant can agree to change or completely terminate a lease at any time. If you have an agreement, be sure you reduce it to writing and have the landlord sign the agreement.


When the lease ends

  • End of Express Lease Term
  • Month-to-Month Terminations
  • Exceptions to Failing to Renew or Terminating a Month-to-Month


End of express lease term

Most written leases specify the lease time period. However, most written leases state that at the expiration date, the lease is automatically renewed either for the same period (e.g., one year or six months) or on a month-to-month basis, unless one of the parties indicates otherwise. The original lease term has expired, but by the conduct of both parties, the lease is being renewed each month and will continue to do so until somebody gives a notice. Therefore, even if the lease is about to expire, the party wishing to terminate the lease on the expiration date must usually give a notice 30 or 60 days prior to the expiration date. You should read your lease to determine how much notice must be given if one party wants to terminate the lease at the date listed in the agreement.

A landlord can decide not to let the lease renew for any reason, unless the landlord illegally retaliates or discriminates. A tenant can decide not to let the lease renew for any reason.


Month-to-month (periodic tenancy) terminations

Either the landlord or the tenant may terminate month-to-month tenancy may be terminated by for any reason usually by giving one month's notice in advance. Although the landlord might not be acting wisely, the landlord could legally terminate the month-to-month lease (you could also say that the landlord is failing to renew your lease at the end of the term). If you failed to move, the landlord would probably succeed in an eviction case unless you could prove that the landlord was actually illegally retaliating or discriminating against you. The landlord does not have to prove you broke the lease or a rule of any kind. The landlord is simply stating that it does not want to lease to you any longer and so long the proper amount of notice is given, the landlord is entitled to get the property back. See Eviction.


The notice can provide for termination on any day of the month, as long as the date of termination is at least one month from the date of the notice. If the notice terminates the tenancy on a day which does not correspond to the end of the month or the beginning of a rent paying period, the tenant need only pay for rent up to the date of termination. However, if rent is paid more than once a month, it is sufficient to give a termination notice only equal to the interval between rental payments. For example, if you pay your rent weekly, you or your landlord need give only one week's notice in writing in order to terminate the tenancy.


Exceptions to landlord's right to not renew a lease

The only possible exceptions to the landlord's right to terminate a month-to-month lease (or fail to renew a lease) is if the landlord is illegally retaliating against you as described in Retaliation or if the landlord is illegally discriminating against you as described in Discrimination. Even in these situations, a landlord may be successful in terminating your rights to possession and evicting you; however, you would still have a clear right to sue for wrongful eviction, actual damages, attorney's fees, statutory penalties and other damages. You have the right to terminate a month-to-month lease in 30 days (or fail to renew at the end of the lease) for any reason and without exception. (See your lease to confirm the amount time that must be given. Some leases these days may require more than 30 days.)

[A tenant in Section 8, government-owned or -subsidized housing often has an additional protection concerning a lease renewal. Many government programs require the landlord to have a good cause if he does not wish to renew the lease (or wishes to terminate a month-to-month lease). Good cause is usually defined in the lease.


When one of the parties broke the rules of a lease

A landlord may try to terminate if you fail to pay rent on time, violate the rules, or fail to act according to other lease provisions. Most landlords terminate only the tenant's right to possession and still require the tenant to complete the obligation to pay rent. However, even if the landlord terminates the lease (or your rights to possession), you still have the right to dispute the landlord's decision and stay in your house or apartment and demand a judge or jury make the determination. The landlord cannot physically remove you from the premises unless an eviction suit has been properly filed and a judgment has been issued against you. See Eviction for more information. Because eviction court records are public documents and are used by many landlords to screen potential tenants, it may be best to attempt to negotiate (or simply move out before their deadline), rather than risk having a court record. Even if you win an eviction, many landlords may pause before renting to you. Beating a landlord in court could mean you are a troublemaker to a typical landlord, rather than a good tenant that a judge or jury thought was more reasonable. Moving out does not necessarily mean you cannot sue later for wrongful eviction or wrongful termination.

A tenant in some circumstances can terminate the lease because of the landlord's conduct or other incident making the premises completely uninhabitable.


Want out early?

If the property you are renting is perfect and are leaving because of a new job or something then you might have to make a deal with the landlord to get out of the lease (more below). However, if you are leaving because the landlord will not make repairs, or is harassing you, then you might be able to blame the landlord for the termination and resist efforts by the landlord to claim you are breaking the lease. Go to the applicable topic to learn when you can legally terminate the lease (e.g. repairs). Landlords are often hesitant to agree that they violated the law that authorized you to break the lease early. So you should know what the landlord will claim and what they will want.


Consequences for terminating without excuse

If a tenant does not have a legal excuse for terminating early, a tenant can be held responsible for the remaining rental payments under the lease. This is the maximum potential liability for premature termination. A tenant can still be liable for damages to the property and reasonable cleaning fees if authorized in the lease. If a tenant moves out early, and the tenant's deposit is too small to cover these charges, landlords sometimes pursue other actions to collect the funds, and usually make reports to credit agencies if collection efforts prove unsuccessful.

If you want to terminate early, you should try to work something out with your landlord. If you make a deal, get the agreement (referred to legally as a release) in writing to prove you are no longer responsible under the lease. A form agreement is provided in the forms section. You should at least give the landlord notice of your intentions, because you will receive credit for any rents they collect from a new tenant on your place after you move out. Giving notice may enable them to find another tenant before you actually move out. Texas law now requires landlords to attempt to locate another tenant to take over your lease (called a duty to mitigate). You can also find someone else to rent your place to reduce your liability as long as the landlord finds them acceptable.


Reletting Fees

Some landlords will charge a "reletting fee" for having to prepare the dwelling for reletting to another tenant. Reletting fees are authorized in lease agreements often written by Texas Apartment Association (TAA). The reletting fee must be a fair amount to cover actual expenses for getting a new tenant on the hook and cannot be unfairly inflated. TAA usually sets this fee at 85 percent of a month's rent. It has been this high for years.

Sometimes it is not proper to charge a reletting fee at all. You cannot be penalized for breaking a lease. Let's think about that again: The law forbids you from being penalized from breaking a lease early. You are not supposed to be penalized; you are only responsible for making up for the landlord's losses. So, if you terminate the lease early and a new tenant is not found, a landlord can charge you only for the total rent owed under the rest of your lease (but cannot also charge you a reletting fee or other termination fee because your paying the two months of rent essentially means that you paid the entire lease out in full).

So, if there was only two months left on your lease, the rent for those two months is the maximum amount you could owe (it can only get lower if the landlord agrees to take less or the landlord finds another tenant to rent the premises in your place). You would not owe two months rent and a reletting fee (the fee in that case would be a penalty). You also do not automatically lose your deposit because that would be a penalty as well. The security deposit is used to pay for any damages or charges you owe (unless you agree to give it up as a part of an agreement).


Typical deal: one month's rent plus deposit

Most landlords and tenants do not want to wait around to determine if the landlord is able to relet the premises. Most people want to make a deal and move on so many landlords make a deal with the tenant if the tenant wants to move out early without an excuse. Many landlords will offer to let tenants pay them an extra month of rent and let them keep the security deposit and the landlord will let them out of the lease. If the landlord relets the premises the next day then that might not have been a great deal for the tenant. But if there was 10 months left on the lease then it might be worth it to take the deal rather than to take the risk that the landlord would not find another person to rent the place. Whatever deal you make, get the agreement in writing, clearly spelled out, signed and dated by both of you.


New landlord does not affect the lease

If the landlord sells, dies or transfers the property, the new owner is obligated to honor your lease and any other agreement you made with the original owner or management. This is another reason to always have important agreements in writing, signed and dated.


Under a new law, effective May 20, 2009, an owner that buys the property at a foreclosure sale must honor the leases in effect (and if there is no lease, or it is expired, the new owner must still give a tenant a 90 day notice to vacate). The law is called the "Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act" and is scheduled to expired December 31, 2012.


Notice of Intent Not to Renew Lease

Release Agreement