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

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

A lease agreement is a contractually binding legal agreement when a tenant occupies a rental property. When a tenant signs the lease agreement, they agree to pay rent for the entire lease term whether or not they live in the rental unit.

Sometimes circumstances occur that may force a Virginia tenant to terminate it early. Their breaking a lease early may have a legally justified reason 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 any landlord needs to know when a tenant breaks their lease early in the state of Virginia.

Rental Agreement in Virginia

As a landlord, it’s important that you create a detailed yet concise lease agreement for your new tenant in Virginia. In other words, don’t let your lease agreement leave any room for guesswork. Landlords should address every possible detail and not make assumptions.

Also, landlords should make sure to take their Virginia tenants through the document before they sign it at the beginning of the rent period.

person signing lease agreement

Now, when it comes to breaking a lease in Virginia, there are a few things that a landlord should address in the lease. They are as follows.

  • The term of the lease. Let your new tenant know how long the lease runs. While you're 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 the total remaining 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 find a replacement tenant. If your replacement tenant 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. 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 for a landlord to free a Virginia 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 give tenants legal justification to break a lease in Virginia is equally imperative. Below are such reasons.

1. The Lease Allows It

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

Generally speaking, most landlords write in the early lease termination clause that they expect tenants to pay a penalty fee usually equivalent to 2 months’ rent. With that they'll be allowed to legally break the rental agreement early, provided also that the tenant notifies their landlord with a written notice 30 days in advance.

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 active military service to break their lease penalty-free. The tenant starting active military duty must serve their landlord copies of their deployment alongside a written notice, among other requirements before leaving.

In Virginia, servicemembers are those in active duty with 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 Virginia landlord, you know that keeping a habitable rental property 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.

It's the landlord's duty under the lease or rental agreement to keep their tenant's living space in habitable condition. For an overview of your habitability obligations, please check (VA Code § 55-225.3).

4. Landlord Harassment

Are you fond of entering your tenant’s property without serving them an advance written notice first? That would be a serious violation of your tenant's privacy and it's a landlord's duty to respect their tenants. To enter their tenant’s rental unit, Virginia requires landlords serve their tenant a 24-hour proper advance notice (VA Code § 55-248.18(A)).

If the landlord fails to written notice, it could be considered landlord harassment under landlord tenant laws.

landlord inside property with tenant

5. The Tenant Becomes a Domestic Violence Victim

According to Virginia state law, (VA Code § 55-225.16), tenants who’ve been domestic violence victims are legally justified in breaking their lease early. But prior to moving out, they must serve their landlord a 30-day notice, as well as provide proof of their status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or family abuse.

6. Failure By Landlord To Provide Mandatory Disclosures

Before a tenant can start living on any Virginia rental property, there are certain disclosures that the landlord 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 the landlord and the 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!

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.