How to break your lease without breaking the law: the Warranty of Habitability

As a renter, you’re typically locked into a lease for a specified period of time (usually a year), and there is little wiggle room to pack up and move before your lease is up without having to pay some kind of penalty. But sometimes you just absolutely have to get out of your place, and most states have a few legal options to pursue in order to avoid paying a ridiculous amount of money. This is the first in a series of three articles that will explore the various ways you can break your lease without breaking the law.

Option #1 – Exercising the Warranty of Habitability

Every state has laws that outline an implied warranty of habitability. This is a fancy way of saying your landlord is required to provide at the very least, a safe, sanitary and livable place for you to call home. In most states, this includes:

– a safe electrical system
– drinkable water
– locks
– a sewer system that works (because ew)
– a way to get rid of trash
– a smoke detector
– no infestation of pests, like bugs and rodents (or ghosts)

Think your residence is slacking on one of the above areas? Inspect your personal space and the shared public areas – your landlord is responsible for those, too. If you see anything that is dangerous to your life, health or safety, these may violate the warranty of habitability. Think broken security gates, mold, unlit stairways, stagnant swimming pools, even a bad smell or noise can make your place legally uninhabitable.

One thing to note is that if you are responsible for any of these problems, you’re out of luck. (That window you broke when you were throwing a football with your roommate isn’t covered, sorry.)

If you do find a problem that warrants uninhabitability, you can’t simply pack up and move out and expect your landlord to forgo your lease without warning. You first have to give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the issues. In case you need to prove that the problem wasn’t fixed within a reasonable amount of time, you’ll need proof that your landlord knew there was a problem to begin with. The best way to prove this is to send an email (with photo evidence) so that there is electronic documentation that you told your landlord, “Hey. This isn’t cool, man.”

(WikiHow suggests sending certified mail, but RadPad recognizes that this is the 21st century, and you probably don’t even know where your local post office is.) In your email, set a deadline for fixing the issues that gives your landlord a reasonable amount of time to address it. For example, don’t expect your heater to be fixed within 24 hours in the middle of summer, but that expectation would be warranted in the dead of winter.

If your landlord is taking his sweet time, consider having your home inspected by your city’s housing inspector. The inspector is an objective party and may be a better solution to getting your landlord to act.

Finally, remember that the warranty of habitability is only for serious problems. That living room wallpaper may be absolutely hideous, but it’s not causing you serious discomfort or danger. If there are real concerns, however, you may be able to break your lease and leave your residence without penalty.

Think you’ve got a way out of your lease? Start browsing for a new place on RadPad ASAP.