When a tenant leaves before the expiry of a fixed-term rental agreement without paying for the remaining rent due under the lease, it’s known as breaking the lease in Washington.
If your reason for breaking the lease early in Washington is justified, you need to provide relevant written notice to the landlord. Otherwise, you, as the tenant, may need to negotiate with the landlord especially if you’re under a longer lease, like one that lasts for a year. Doing this will help you mitigate against any legal and financial repercussions.
It goes without saying that knowing your rights as a tenant under the state law is vital. Be that as it may, the terms of the lease ultimately dictate the consequences of breaking a lease early.
Our team here at T-Square Property Management would like to inform you of what you need to know about breaking a lease early in Washington.
Renters Rights and Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in Washington
A lease agreement obligates both the tenant and landlord for a specific period of time. In the state of Washington, unless a lease runs out, a landlord cannot raise the rent or change other terms unless allowed in the lease.
Your landlord also cannot force you to move out, unless you violate the Washington lease agreement. And even then, he has to follow the due legal process. For example, under the Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 59.12.030(3) statute, the landlord is required to serve you a 3-day notice to pay the rent or leave. And if you cause any serious damage to the rental unit, the landlord is mandated to serve you with an unconditional quit notice.
As a tenant, you’re legally bound to pay rent for the full lease term (usually one year), regardless of whether you continue living in the rental unit or not. There are some exceptions, though. They are as follows.
When Breaking a Lease Early is Legally Justified in Washington State
There are instances in which a tenant can legally break the rental agreement before the remaining lease term ends.
Unlawful harassment by your landlord or landlord’s agent
Under Washington state laws, a landlord is required to give a one- or two-day notice prior to entering rental. If your landlord repeatedly violates your rights to privacy, you have good reason to break/ terminate it.
As the tenant, you may also break the lease in Washington if your landlord does things like changing the locks, turning off your utilities, or removing your windows. A judge might rule that you have been “constructively evicted,” and therefore rule in your favor.
You are a victim of Stalking or Domestic Violence
Under Washington Rental laws, you can break a lease if you’re a victim of domestic violence or stalking. There’s a caveat though: You need to show proof of these crimes, like a police report.
As a response to a repair concern that the landlord isn’t taking action to fix within a specified timeframe
A court would probably rule that you have been “constructively evicted” if your landlord fails to provide habitable housing. It’s your right as a tenant to live in habitable housing under local and state housing codes.
Washington State law (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 59.18.100, .110, .115) sets the procedure you should follow before being justified to break or terminate the lease.
A call to military service
A tenant has a right to break a lease if they enter active military service after signing a lease agreement. You’re required to give landlords a written notice stipulating your intent. Once the landlord is in possession of the notice, you will have 30 days before your tenancy ends.
There may be a number of other serious reasons renters choose to break their lease, including:
- Concerns about safety or security
- Noise or other nuisance
- Irreconcilable problems with neighbors or management
- Health reasons
As serious as these reasons may be, the Act that guides the landlord-tenant relationship doesn’t explicitly allow renters to terminate a lease for these reasons. So what happens when breaking a lease isn’t justified?
When Breaking a Lease in Washington is not Legally Justified
Even with the absence of a legal justification to break your lease, you may still be off the hook when paying due rent. This is because, under Washington landlord-tenant law, the landlord has a responsibility to make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit.
In other words, you, as the tenant, may not have to pay the total remaining rent due under the lease. You’ll only pay the rent that the landlord loses as a result of your terminating the lease. And if the owner has to re-rent the unit at a lower amount than the one originally stated in the lease, you’ll have to compensate for the difference.
Other charges that you may have to pay the landlord include:
- The cost of advertising the property, and;
- Tenant screening costs. The rental owner doesn’t need to relax standards for acceptable Washington State tenants.
Tenants will only be liable for the amount of time the unit was vacant if the landlords are able to fill the vacancy early. However, if it takes a longer time to get a new renter, the costs could be substantial.
When you break the lease, you aren’t typically entitled to your security deposit. It’s the first thing the landlord turns to when recovering the money you owe.
Ways to Minimize Your Financial Responsibility When You Legally Break a Lease
There are several ways to minimize your financial responsibility when you move out and lack legal justification. Don’t just move out and pray that your landlord gets a replacement. Instead, assist the property owner in his efforts to get a new tenant.
This may even help you earn a good reference from the landlord when you’re looking for another rental property.
So how do tenants help the landlords? A tenant can start by giving advance proper notice as early as possible. This will give enough time to negotiate any terms for early termination, and for the landlord to find a new tenant.
Ideally, the tenant can even offer the property owner a replacement tenant. The tenant should be qualified, though.
Always read the terms and fine print of your lease agreement carefully. For example, read your lease to see if it includes a termination fee or a specific forfeiture of your deposit for breaking your lease. Know your rights, know the rules and regulations, and follow them to the best of your ability.