In most cases, tenants that have signed a lease have the intention of staying for the full duration indicated on the lease agreement. However, some circumstances can’t be avoided. For example, something that comes up during the lease period that causes the tenant to leave before the lease is up.
This can be a complicated scenario for both renter and the landlord. In this article, we are a going to cover the relevant Florida landlord-tenant laws plus a few tips when it comes to breaking a lease in Florida.
What Is a Lease?
Before the subject of “breaking a lease” comes into play, there should be a “lease” in the first place. Before all else, to have a better understanding about breaking a lease, we feel that it’s best to cover the basics of a lease.
A lease is an agreement between the landlord and the tenant, and it usually lasts for a year. In most cases, when the rental unit is under a lease, the landlord is not able to increase rent or change the terms until the end of the lease period. In exchange, the tenant agrees to rent the unit for a specific amount of time.
If the tenant decides to leave before the lease ends, the tenant may be forced by law to continue paying the rent. They must cover the rent until the lease ends, even if the renter is not living in the unit anymore.
Signing a lease also implies that the landlord can not forcefully evict the tenant unless the tenant violates a significant term or is unable to pay the rent.
If the tenant wants to leave before the lease ends, then this is what you call “breaking the lease.” What most people don’t know is that there are instances in which breaking the lease is justifiable.
In such cases, the tenant may leave, and he or she is not obligated to pay rent until the lease ends. So, what are a few examples of these instances? That’s what we are going to cover below.
Justified “Breaking a Lease” in Florida
1. Active Military Duty
If a tenant signs a lease and then during the lease he or she enters active military duty, breaking a lease is justified because of federal law.
For a renter to invoke this law, he or she must be part of a “uniformed service“. This includes commissions corps of the PHS, commissioned corps of the NOAA, activated National Guard or the armed forces.
The tenant must also send the landlord a written Florida lease termination notice. Once the notice is delivered or mailed, the renter is free from the lease 30 days after the next rent is due.
2. Rental Unit Violations
In Florida, there’s a local and state housing code that all landlords must adhere to. If the rental unit fails to pass safety codes or health codes, the court will most likely conclude that the renter has been “constructively evicted“. In this matter, the breaking of a lease is justified.
This means that because the landlord is renting out an “unliveable housing unit,” the landlord “evicted” the tenant. Thus, the tenant is free from the lease. Keep in mind that the problem of the rental unit must be truly serious (e.g., lack of heating) before the court can conclude “constructively evicted.”
3. Florida Renters Rights on Privacy and Harassment
When it comes to renters rights in Florida, if the landlord repeatedly violates the renter’s right to privacy, then the court can conclude that the tenant has been “constructively evicted.” Harassments such as changing the locks, turning off the lights and water or removing doors or windows can also lead to a justified breaking of a lease.
So, if the tenant leaves, and it’s deemed as an unjustified breaking of a lease, what are the options for both tenant and landlord? That’s what we are going to cover in the next sections.
Landlord’s Options in Unjustified Breaking of the Lease
Most local rental laws and codes dictate that the landlord must make a “reasonable” effort to find another renter for the unit. If the landlord succeeds, then the tenant can stop paying the rent, even though the lease is not over. However, the state of Florida is different.
Florida’s rental laws are a lot more relaxed when it comes to forcing the landlord to make reasonable efforts to “mitigate damages” because of an unjustified breaking of a lease.
Essentially, when an unjustified breaking of a lease happens, the landlord has three options.
First, the landlord has the option of re-renting the unit. Second, the landlord has the right to liquidate the tenant’s assets to cover the financial damages. And lastly, the landlord can choose to do nothing, and this means that the tenant must pay the rent until the end of the lease.
Tenants Rights in Unjustified Breaking of a Florida Lease
In instances that result to an unjustified breaking of a lease, the renter is the party with the limited options. Keep in mind that a lease is an agreement that benefits both tenant and the landlord.
For the renter, he or she is assured that rent will stay the same until the lease ends. For the landlord, he or she is possibly sacrificing any appreciation in fair market rent value, in exchange for a guarantee that the unit stays rented for a longer period.
For tenants, it’s essentially renting in wholesale. For landlords, it’s the norm to give discounts if the other party is renting in wholesale.
Now when the tenant breaks a lease, he or she is basically buying at wholesale prices and enjoying the benefits of retail. This is why it’s only right that the landlord gets the upper hand during instances of an unjustified breaking of a lease.
At best, the only thing the tenant can do (aside from paying the rent until the lease ends) is help the landlord find another renter. This is because if the landlord accepts another renter, the old lease automatically ends which then frees the old renter.
What we have covered above is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the subject of breaking a lease in Florida. If you are a landlord or a tenant in Florida, and you want more detailed and comprehensive information about breaking a lease, then it’s best to talk to a professional to help you with the situation.