Early Termination of a Lease (Answers to Common Questions)
Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program®
- Is there a seventy-two (72) hour period after signing a lease during which the landlord or tenant can change their mind and get out of the lease?
No, there is not a "cooling off" period in Georgia which would enable you to change your mind after signing a lease. If you decide not to move into the unit after signing the lease, the landlord may impose early termination penalties against you.
- Can a Tenant Move Before the End of the Lease Term?
The answer to this question will be found in the lease. A tenant's ability to get out of the lease depends on the language of the lease and the willingness of the landlord to allow the termination. There may be a provision in your lease which allows the tenant to end the lease prior to its expiration. If so, the tenant will need to follow the terms of that lease provision.
Some leases allow tenants to terminate the lease early but require that tenants to give advanced notice and impose financial penalties for the early termination. If the lease does not allow for early termination, a tenant can be held responsible for payment of all rent remaining under the lease. The landlord is required to mitigate any damages by re-renting the premises. If the landlord does re-rent the property after the tenant moves out, any rent collected must be deducted from the amount the tenant owes. For example, if a tenant terminates a twelve month lease after six months, the tenant can be held responsible for the six months rent remaining under the lease. If the landlord rents the unit to someone else after four months, the tenant is only responsible for the four months rent while the unit was vacant.
However, if the lease has an early termination penalty provision, the tenant will have to pay the designated penalty even if the unit was immediately re-rented or if it was vacant for six months. Where the lease identifies an amount that must be paid if the lease is terminated before it expires, a tenant can be charged that amount. If the parties to a contract, such as a lease, agree what the damages for early termination shall be, the damages are said to be "liquidated." Both parties are bound by the liquidated damage provision in the lease. If the early termination penalty is unreasonable, the tenant should consider contacting an attorney.
Some landlords may release a tenant from the lease if an acceptable person is found to take over the lease. Some landlords will allow tenants to rent to another person, this is called subletting. The landlord may refuse to allow you to do this. If your landlord agrees to allow an early termination, the tenant should be sure to get in writing any agreement as to penalties or future rent owed.
- When Can a Tenant Move Due to the Bad Condition of the Rental Property?
Tenant can claim that the property they are renting is uninhabitable if the rented unit is unfit to live in and the landlord's failure to make repairs caused it to become unfit. To establish constructive eviction (that the tenant can not live in the unit) it is necessary for the tenant to prove:
* That the landlord failed to keep the rented property repaired and allowed it to deteriorate to so that it became an unfit place for the tenant to live, and
* That the property could not be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs which could be made without unreasonable interruption of the tenant's residency.
If the above two are proven, the tenant is relieved of his obligation to pay rent. A condition which existed at the time the tenant signed the lease are not grounds which can support a claim of constructive eviction.
- Can Tenants in Active Military Service Who Must Relocate Terminate Their Lease Without Penalty?
Yes, under both state and federal law you can terminate your lease early. A newprovision in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows termination of leases by active dutyservicemembers who subsequently receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or adeployment for a period of 90 days or more. If you have a lease for a house or apartment, youmay be able to get out of the lease when you are placed on active duty. Here are therequirements:
* You originally signed your lease when you were not on any form of active duty.
* You have received your orders to active duty.
* You gave written notice to your landlord that you want to terminate your leaseand gave him a copy of your orders.
Once your landlord receives your notice, he can charge you rent for 30 days after the dateyour next rent is due. Example: You give notice on December 15th. Your next rent is normallydue January 1st. The landlord can make you pay rent until 31 January. The key is to get thewritten notice in the landlord's hands just as soon as possible.
Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 44-7-37) a person on active military duty or their immediate family may terminate their dwelling lease with a limited penalty. A tenant on active duty with the United States military who receives permanent change of station orders or temporary duty orders for a period in excess of three months may terminate their lease and can only be required to pay an amount equal to only thirty days' rent once they provide written notice and proof of their assignment to their landlord. The military member and his or her immediate family remain responsible for the cost of repairing damage to the premises caused by an act or omission of the tenant or his family.
- When the lease has "expired" but the landlord has continued to accept rental payments, what rights does a tenant have?
The terms renewal and extension are often confused but each has its own separate meaning. Language in a lease which intends to lengthen the tenancy for an additional period
under the same terms and conditions provides for an extension of the lease. Language in a lease which states that the tenancy can only be extended at the end of the current lease term by the signing of a new lease provides for a renewal. If the lease provides for an extension of the lease term at the end of the current lease, the tenant needs to read the language carefully. The lease may provide for an automatic extension in which case the lease is extended for an additional term if the tenant remains in possession after the expiration of the original lease term and the landlord accepts rent. But if the language of the
lease states that the tenant must give the landlord notice of his intent to extend the lease, the tenant must provide the notice for the lease to be extended. If notice is not given and the tenant remains, he can be evicted as a tenant holding over. The only exception would be if the landlord accepted payment after the end of the original lease term in which case the landlord would be treated as having waived the requirement for notice to extend and the parties would be bound for an additional term.
Generally, where the lease requires a renewal (a new contract) at the end of the term, and the term ends without such a new contract, the tenancy has terminated as of the last day of the lease term. After expiration of the old lease, if the landlord accepts rent and permits the tenant to remain, a tenancy-at-will has been created. The terms of the original lease would still apply to the tenancy except that the landlord could terminate or change the terms 60 days notice. The tenant could terminate the lease with 30 days notice to the landlord.
- I notified my landlord that I would be terminating the lease early. According to the lease, I must pay the equivalent of one month's rent in order to terminate the lease early. Am I required to pay the early termination fee even if the landlord did not lose a month's rent?
Where the lease identifies a lump sum amount that must be paid if the lease is terminatedbefore it expires, a tenant can generally be charged that amount. If the parties to the lease agreewhat the damages for early termination will be, the damages are said to be liquidated. Such leaseterms will be enforced if the damages caused by the termination are difficult to estimate and theagreed amount is a reasonable estimate of the landlord's loss and the expenses caused by the termination. The early termination fee should not be so high that it is actually a penalty. In the alternative, the lease may require the tenant to pay the rent for the months that remain under the terminated lease minus any amount the landlord collects if the property is re-rented.
- I have received notice that my landlord is not going to renew my lease. According to the terms of the lease, the landlord must provide a thirty (30) day notice that the lease will not be renewed. Does the landlord have to give me a reason for not renewing my lease?
No, a private landlord is not required to give a reason for refusing to renew a lease unless the lease so requires. The landlord can refuse to renew a lease for any reason but cannot discriminate based on color, disability, religion, nationality or because children are in the household. A private landlord merely has to give the tenant notice of non-renewal or other notice as required under the lease. If there is no written lease, the landlord has to give the tenant sixty (60) days notice to terminate the tenancy.
- I need to move. The landlord will not let me terminate my lease early. Can I sublet my apartment to someone else for the remaining six months of the lease?
You need to read your lease carefully and see if it contains language which prohibits you from leasing your apartment to another. When someone other than the original tenant occupies the premises, they are called a subtenant. The subtenant pays rent directly to the landlord. The landlord may elect to treat the occupant in possession as his tenant under the lease for the unexpired term or the landlord can elect to treat the subtenant as an intruder. The landlord's election may be an express recognition of the subtenant or be implied from affirmative acts and conduct. However, the landlord's acceptance of rent from the subtenant does not alone establish that the landlord elected to treat the subtenant as his tenant so as to release the original tenant from liability under the lease.
- My lease expired two months ago, but the landlord allowed me to continue at the same rent without signing a new lease. Now, the landlord has decided that I must sign a new lease with a higher rent or move out. The landlord gave me only two weeks notice to decide. What does the law say about this situation?
Since the landlord accepted rent after the original lease expired, a tenancy-at-will was created. The tenant continues to occupy the unit under the same terms and conditions as in the expired lease. However, the landlord must give a sixty (60) day notice prior to any change in the tenancy, including increasing rent, an offer of a new lease, or termination of the rental arrangement. The landlord is not required to give this notice in writing unless the lease so provides. However, it is better practice to provide written notice. Likewise, the tenant must provide a thirty (30) day notice to the landlord if the tenant wants to terminate the tenancy. In this case, the landlord should have given the tenant sixty days to sign the new lease or vacate.
- My roommate and I both signed a lease but she has moved out. Can I get out of the lease?
Generally, if you signed a lease with your roommate, the apartment complex can hold each of you liable for the entire amount of rent owed. The apartment complex will expect to receive the full monthly rent and, since you are living in the unit, will hold you responsible for payment. However, the apartment complex can only collect the full amount from one of you. You may wish to contact the apartment manager about terminating the lease and offer to pay a portion of the charges to be released from liability for the entire amount.
- My lease will expire in two months. I want to stay in the same apartment. What should I do?
First, you need to read your lease paying special attention to paragraphs which discuss renewal, extension, or expiration of the tenancy. If your lease does not answer your question, contact your landlord and discuss the matter with him or her. If you and the landlord cannot reach an agreement on a new lease or an extension, you should plan on moving when your lease ends. At the end of a lease term a landlord can choose not to renew the existing lease or can offer the tenant a new lease with different terms, including an increase in rent. Georgia law does not limit the amount of rent a landlord can charge or the amount by which rent can be increased. If you remain in your unit after your lease expires, the landlord can require that you immediately sign a new lease with new terms or vacate. It is best to negotiate your new lease before your old lease expires.