Breaking a Lease in Newport News, Virgina- Know the Laws

As a landlord, it’s imperative that you keep yourself up to date with the rules and regulations that apply when a tenant breaks their lease.

A lease agreement is a contractually binding legal agreement. When a tenant signs it, they agree to pay rent for the entire lease term whether or not they live there.

Sometimes circumstances occur that may force a tenant to break it early. Their reason for breaking the lease early may either be legally justified or not. Regardless of the reason, though, breaking a lease is a serious violation of the contractual agreement.

As a landlord, it’s important to know what actions you’d be able to take if you find yourself in such a scenario. The following is everything you need to know when a tenant breaks their lease early in the state of Virginia.

Rental Agreement in Virginia

It’s important that you create a detailed yet concise lease agreement for your tenants. In other words, don’t let your lease agreement leave any room for guesswork. Address every possible detail and don’t make assumptions. Also, make sure to take your tenant through the document before they sign it.

person signing lease agreement

Now, when it comes to breaking a lease, there are a few things that you’ll want to address in the lease. They are as follows.

  • The term of the lease. Let your tenant know how long the lease runs. While at it, let them know that they are contractually obligated to the terms of the lease for the entire term.

  • The penalties for breaking the lease unjustifiably. Let them know that breaking the lease early doesn’t exempt them from their lease obligations like paying rent.

  • Their rights to break the lease early for justified reasons. Also, explain to them the requirements that they must meet before moving out.

  • Whether you have a responsibility to “mitigate damages.” In Virginia, landlords must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit after a tenant leaves. If your efforts are successful, your tenant would only be liable for paying rent for the duration the unit was empty.

  • Whether subletting is legal or not. In Virginia, a tenant can sublet their unit if the lease doesn’t prohibit it. As such, as a landlord, make sure to have a clause on subletting. Let the tenant know whether it is allowed or not; and if allowed, the conditions they must meet.

  • If the tenant is renting periodically, let them know how much notice they must serve you before leaving. In the state of Virginia, tenants must provide a 30-day advance notice before terminating a month-to-month lease. In the case of a lease with no end date, a tenant must serve a 120-day notice. (VA Code § 55-222).

moving boxes in living room

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia

The following reasons don’t provide enough justification to free a tenant from their contractual lease obligations.

  • Breaking the lease after buying a house.
  • Breaking the lease after a job relocation.
  • Terminating the lease after a divorce or separation.
  • Breaking the lease to live near their school.
  • Breaking the lease to go live with a partner.

However legitimate these reasons may be, they don’t offer enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant penalty-free. With such reasons, the best way for a tenant to break their lease would be to seek a mutual termination with the landlord. Otherwise, a myriad of legal or financial repercussions would lie in waiting for the tenant.

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia

Knowing what reasons a tenant can use to justifiably break their lease in Virginia is equally imperative. Below are such reasons.

1. The lease allows it.

If your lease has an early lease termination clause, then your tenant may be able to use it to break their lease justifiably. When creating the clause, make sure to be specific with the requirements a tenant must meet.

Generally speaking, most landlords expect tenants to meet two key requirements. That is, pay a penalty fee usually equivalent to 2 months’ rent, as well as provide advance notice of 30 days.

people exchanging house keys

2. The tenant is beginning active military service.

The federal law – the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) – allows tenants who are relocated for military service to break their lease penalty-free. The tenant must serve you copies of their deployment alongside a written notice, among other requirements before leaving.

In Virginia, servicemembers are those that serve in the armed forces, the National Guard, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

3. The unit is no longer habitable.

As a knowledgeable landlord, you know that keeping your property habitable is a key responsibility. It will not only help you keep your tenant happy, but also help you stay compliant with the state’s health and safety codes.

For an overview of your habitability obligations, please check (VA Code § 55-225.3).

4. Not respecting your tenant’s privacy.

Are you fond of entering your tenant’s unit without serving them an advance notice first? That would be a serious violation of their privacy. To enter your tenant’s unit, Virginia law requires that you serve your tenant a 24-hour notice. (VA Code § 55-248.18(A)).

landlord inside property with tenant

5. The tenant becomes a domestic violence victim.

In Virginia, (VA Code § 55-225.16) allows tenants who’ve been domestic violence victims to break their lease early. But prior to moving out, they must serve you a 30-day notice, as well as provide you proof of their status.

6. Failure to provide your tenant with mandatory disclosures.

Before a tenant can start living on your property, there are certain disclosures that you must provide them with. In Virginia, they include the following.

  • Disclosure on lead-based paint disclosure.
  • Disclosure on adjacency to a military air installation.
  • Disclosure of knowledge of the existence of defective drywall.

Bottom Line

Now you have a basic overview of the rights and obligations both you and your tenant have regarding early lease termination. For further help, get in touch with RedSail Property Management. Our full-service property management services can help you increase ROI and decrease your stress. Get in touch to learn more!