Tenants can break a lease agreement for many reasons such as needing to be closer to their work or family members.

Normally, breaking a lease is serious violation of the lease agreement. A typical lease will run for a year within which both parties must follow the rules and regulations outlined by said lease. Your tenant, for instance, has a responsibility to pay all rent due under the lease regardless of whether they are staying there or not.

Unless you've evicted the tenant, if they break their lease early, you may be able to hold them liable for all rent remaining under the lease and keep their security deposit.

However, exceptions to this blanket rule exist. There are a handful of scenarios that can allow a tenant to break their lease without penalty. In Washington, they are as follows.

When Breaking a Lease Agreement is Legally Justified in Washington

1. There is an Early Lease Termination Clause in Your Lease Agreement

Do you have an early lease termination clause in your lease? If you do, then your tenant can take advantage of it and break their lease early as long as they meet all requirements.

Most clauses on early lease termination require a tenant to pay a fee. Usually, the fee is equivalent to two months’ rent. The fee goes a long way in helping a landlord cater for the costs of re-renting the unit.

Another requirement under most early termination clauses involves the notice period. A one-month notice is typical. This allows landlords sufficient time to find a replacement tenant.

2. Your Tenant Receives a Deployment Letter From Their Commanding Officer

Is your tenant beginning active military duty? Have they been relocated due to a deployment or permanent change of station? If so, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows them to do so without incurring penalty.

the servicemembers civil relief act

According to the act, your tenant must provide you certain documentation prior to moving out. Firstly, they must show proof that they intend to remain on active duty for 90 days or more.

Secondly, they must notify you of their intentions to move out and accompany that with the deployment letter.

But even with the conditions being met, the lease doesn’t end immediately. The earliest it can do so is 30 days after the next rent period begins. So, let’s suppose that your tenant delivers the notice on the 23rd of April. If the rent is due on the 1st of every month, then July 1st is the earliest the lease can terminate.

3. The Unit Fails Washington Habitability Standards

Landlords must ensure that their rental units are always habitable. As a matter of fact, Washington requires that by law.

A habitable property is one that meets certain basic health and safety conditions. For example, it has to be structurally sound, free from infestation, and has adequate water, heating and electricity.

What can make a rental unit uninhabitable? Examples include a non-working air conditioning in dangerously hot summer months, unsafe or exposed wiring, and holes in the floor.

There are consequences to failing to provide a habitable rental unit. For starters, your tenant can simply give you a notice and move out. Two, your Washington tenant could choose to take you to court for failure to abide by the lease. Your tenant could also decide to do the repairs themselves and then subtract the cost from the rent.

always make sure your rental is habitable

In some other states, tenants are allowed to withhold rent until the landlord takes care of an important repair. This, however, isn’t the case in Washington. If your tenant withholds rent due to a habitability issue, you may be able to evict them.

4. Your Tenant Accuses You of Harassment

If the action is serious enough, your tenant could be able to break their lease. Examples of actions that can be deemed to be harassment by a landlord are as follows:

• Failing to make requested repairs within a reasonable period of time. As per state law, you have 10 days to act on a major issue impacting a tenant’s safety and/or health.
• Raising rent without serving proper notice. While Washington doesn’t have any rent control law in place, you must notify your tenant beforehand. You must provide your tenant a written 30-day notice to tenants on a month to month agreement.
• Locking your tenant’s house. No matter what your tenant has done, you cannot engage in ‘self-help’ eviction tactics. Other than locking your tenant’s house, it’d also be illegal to shut off their utilities or remove their belongings. Only a court can rule on whether a tenant can be evicted or not.

5. You Violate Your Tenant’s Privacy

Just like tenants in other tenants, Washington tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their rented premises.

respect your tenant's privacy

According to landlord-tentant law, you must give your Washington tenant a notice of at least 2 days prior to entering their rented premises.

6. Your Tenant is a Victim of Domestic Violence

In Washington, domestic violence victims have special rental provisions for their protection. There are six statutes in this regard, including being able to terminate their lease within 90 days from the date of the incident.

Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in Washington State

Landlords in Washington must make reasonable steps to re-rent their units once their tenant breaks the lease.

This simply means that you cannot just wait for the lease to end and then sue your tenant for all rent remaining under the lease. If you are lucky to find a replacement tenant, your tenant would only be liable for paying rent for the time the unit was vacant.

Bottom Line

Breaking a lease has consequences that aren't enjoyable for a tenant or a landlord. If you find yourself in a situation where your tenant has broken their lease, know that you can come to Amera Property Management! Our team will help you understand the law and figure out what the best course of action is. We also ensure to follow the Fair Housing Laws when conducting our services.

Disclaimer: This blog shouldn’t be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. Laws frequently change, and this post might not be up-to-date at the time you read it. Please get in touch with a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company for further help.