When you signed your lease, you probably intended to stay until your lease was up. However, you may need or just want to leave when your lease is up. Perhaps you’ve purchased a home, you’re planning to move in with a partner, or you are a student and only need the apartment during the school session. As you contemplate your options, you probably have questions. Can you break a lease without paying a penalty? Will you be responsible for rent for the remaining term?
The good news is there are some options to limit liability and break a rental lease in Utah without penalties. However, these options are limited.
Utah Renters Rights – Breaking a Lease
When you sign a Utah rental agreement, the lease obligates you and your landlord for a specific term. During the term of your lease, your landlord cannot change lease terms or increase your rent unless your lease allows for a mid-lease rent increase. You also cannot be forced to move out before the end of your lease unless you violate a major term or do not pay rent. Even then, landlords must follow certain rules.
When you are ready to move, you may need to give notice to your landlord. No notice is required for leases with a fixed end date. However, you must give 15 days written notice to terminate a month-to-month lease or a lease without an end date under UCA §§ 78B-6-802.
Utah early termination of a lease generally comes with consequences such as being liable for the remaining rent on your lease and even a penalty. However, Utah lease laws provide some legal reasons to break a lease without consequences.
What Happens if You Break a Lease in Utah?
If you do not have a legal reason for breaking a lease in UT, you may face one of two primary financial consequences:
- An early termination penalty if your lease has an early termination clause.
- Liability for rent due for the remaining term of the lease.
The consequences of breaking an apartment lease can go beyond the amount of outstanding rent you owe, especially if you aren’t able to pay it back. Your landlord can sue you for unpaid rent. This may be more likely when your outstanding rent balance exceeds their court costs and your deposit or the unit remains vacant for some time.
If the court finds you are legally obligated to pay the outstanding rent, you can face a judgment which damages your credit score unless you can pay it immediately or work out a payment plan in court.
In the future, you may have trouble qualifying for a new rental property due to the damage to your rental history.
Do You Have an Early Termination Clause? Your Liability Can Be Limited to a Penalty
Sometimes a Utah rental agreement includes an early termination clause that lets you off the hook for remaining rent. In exchange for terminating your lease early, you must pay a penalty. This early termination clause may require a specific amount of notice such as 15 or 30 days. It should also state the fee amount. For instance, you may be able to terminate your lease early with 30 days’ notice for a penalty equal to two months’ rent.
Landlords Have a Duty to Find a New Tenant to Limit Your Financial Liability
If you do not have this clause and do not have a legal justification, you will be responsible for all remaining rent due for the rest of the lease. However, there is a limit.
Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-816 requires landlords to mitigate damages. This means they are legally required to make reasonable effort to re-rent the property as soon as possible. You will only be legally responsible for the landlord’s actual losses due to your early lease termination. This includes not only lost rent but also reasonable expenses to re-rent the unit such as advertising costs.
The rent the landlord receives from new tenants must be subtracted from the amount you owe through the lease term. They are only required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent your unit and they are not required to lower their standards or rent the property for less than its market value.
If you were renting in a high-demand building with low vacancy rates, you may get lucky and your unit is re-rented quickly. However, if the landlord cannot find an acceptable new tenant, you will be responsible for the remaining lease. The landlord can use your security deposit toward this debt and sue you for the remaining rent due.
How to Break Your Lease Without Penalty in Utah
Fortunately, leasing laws in Utah offer several options for breaking an apartment lease in Utah without penalty. The bad news? These legal reasons to break a lease in Utah are limited. Breaking a lease to buy a house in Utah, for instance, is not a valid reason to break your lease. Health-related issues are also not valid, including seniors who find themselves needing assisted living or a long-term hospital stay.
Here’s how to break a lease legally in Utah and the requirements you must meet.
The Unit Is Uninhabitable
When you sign a Utah lease agreement, you do so with the expectation of receiving a safe, habitable home. If the unit is uninhabitable because it violates major health and safety codes, you have legal remedies.
However, breaking an apartment lease in Utah because the unit is uninhabitable can only be done after certain steps are taken.
You must first give the landlord proper notice of issues and give them a reasonable amount of time to make repairs. If the unit is still not made habitable, Utah lease laws consider you constructively evicted. This means you are no longer obligated to pay rent or remain in the home.
There are specific duties a landlord has to make a property habitable. This includes only renting a property that is sanitary, safe, and fit for human occupancy. The landlord must provide and maintain heating, hot and cold water, electricity, and plumbing. If there are more than two units in the building, they must also provide trash receptacles and arrange for removal in most cases.
Before using constructive eviction to get out of a lease, be aware there are strict rules. You must be current on your rent to use this legal remedy. After the landlord fails to fix unsanitary or unsafe conditions, you can use a Notice of Deficient Conditions. You must check what action you will take if the issue is not fixed and give it to your landlord. Your landlord can then make repairs, refuse repairs, or end your lease.
For serious issues like a furnace not working in winter or no running water, the landlord has 24 hours to begin repairs. If major issues are not fixed, you can break your lease.
The bottom line? A landlord must be given a chance to correct issues, even if they are very serious, before you can break a lease in Utah.
You Were the Victim of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence victims have special protection under UCA §§ 57-22-5.1. You can legally break your lease without penalties in Utah if:
- You are in compliance with all renter’s duties under Section 57-22-5 and your rental agreement,
- Give your landlord written notice and either a copy of the police report documenting you were the victim of domestic violence and didn’t participate or a protective order that protects you, AND
- Provide a notice of termination
If you use this option, be aware that you must still pay the equivalent of 45 days’ rent for the period that begins on the date you give notice.
You Are Entering Active Military Duty
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), you are allowed to break an apartment lease if you must relocate due to a permanent change of station or deployment as an active service member. The protection of this law begins on the date you enter duty and ends 30 to 90 days after discharge.
Using this legal remedy requires you to take the following steps:
- Show the lease was signed before you entered active duty
- Show you will be on active duty for at least 90 days
- Give your landlord written notice and a copy of your orders to deploy or a statement from your commanding officer regarding your pending deployment
Your lease will still not end immediately. After you give notice, the lease can be terminated no sooner than 30 days starting on the beginning of the next rent period.
Your Landlord Has Violated Your Privacy or Harassed You
Leasing laws in Utah allow you to legally break a lease without penalty if you are subjected to serious harassment or privacy violations by your landlord.
Your landlord is required to give 24 hours’ notice before entering the property unless the lease states otherwise. If your landlord has repeatedly violated your right to privacy by violating this law, you can break your lease.
You also have the right to break your lease due to harassment that is considered constructive eviction. This includes changing the locks without your permission, turning off the utilities, or removing doors or windows.
Minimize Early Termination Penalty After Breaking a Lease in Utah
As you can see, breaking a lease in Utah usually comes with consequences except in just a handful of scenarios. If you do not have a legal option for breaking your lease, you may have a few solutions to minimize the financial penalty or even escape it completely.
You may try working with your landlord to help them find a new tenant. If you know someone interested in the apartment who qualifies, suggest them to your landlord. You can also try writing your landlord a letter to explain why you need to leave and provide as much notice as possible. It’s possible your landlord will have compassion, depending on the reason you need to terminate your lease early.
Give your landlord as much notice as you can provide too. This may even give your landlord enough time to find a renter before or shortly after you move out to limit your financial liability.
Are you breaking a lease to buy a home, leave the area, or even help an aging loved one move into assisted living or a nursing facility? While we can’t help with the ramifications of breaking a rental agreement, Wasatch Moving Company can assist with affordable, dependable moving services along the Wasatch Front. Give us a call for a free estimate today.