A lease is a contractual agreement between the landlord and a renter. It defines the duties and responsibilities of each party during the life of the tenancy.
Generally, breaking a lease refers to moving out of the rental unit before the end of the lease period. The reasons why tenants move out can either be legally justified or not.
When justified, you only need to provide the landlord with sufficient notice. However, when the reasons are not justified, penalties will be imposed.
If you are a North Carolina tenant, here’s everything you need to know about breaking a lease.
Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in North Carolina
A lease obligates both parties to the lease for a defined time period, typically a year. During this time, the landlord can’t change the terms of the lease. For example, the landlord can’t increase the rent amount.
The landlord can only do so once the lease period has come to an end. Or, if the lease itself has a clause allowing it.
Also, the landlord cannot kick you out of the premises. They only do so if you have seriously violated the lease terms. For instance, failure to pay rent or partaking in illegal activities inside the premises.
And even if you violate the lease, the landlord needs to follow the right process to bring the tenancy to an end. In North Carolina, this means your landlord must provide you with the relevant eviction notice.
For nonpayment of rent, the landlord must provide you with a ten days’ notice. This will give you two options – either to pay the due rent or vacate the premises.
For serious lease violations like illegal activities, the landlord must provide you with an unconditional quit notice. This notice will inform you to leave immediately.
North Carolina’s rental laws state that you are legally obligated to pay rent for the entire length of the lease. This is regardless of whether you reside in the premises or not. Although, a few exceptions to this blanket rule exist. They are as follows.
1. Your landlord harasses you.
Landlord harassment is illegal in North Carolina. The following acts qualify as landlord harassment:
- Refusal to accept rent payment.
- Threatening the tenant, either verbally or physically.
- Doing things like changing the locks, turning off utilities, or removing windows and doors.
- Removing possessions from the rental unit.
- Increasing the price of rent. The landlord can only do so if the lease permits it.
- Refusing to make repairs.
- Entering the unit without sufficient notice. A notice of at least 24 hours’ is necessary prior to entry of a rental unit.
If your landlord does any of these things, a judge will likely rule that you’ve been “constructively evicted.” Constructive eviction is illegal. This would give you justification to break the lease.
2. The rental unit is uninhabitable.
As a renter, you have the right to live in a habitable dwelling. That is a dwelling fit for human habitation. One that possesses functional amenities and is not in a considerable state of disrepair.
Failure by your landlord to provide this and the court, again, will likely rule that you’ve been constructively evicted.
3. You’re beginning active military service.
Under NC rental laws, you have a right to break the lease if you are part of the “uniformed services.” Examples of uniformed services include the activated National Guard and the armed forces.
To break the lease, you are required to give the landlord a thirty days’ notice. Besides being written, you must also include the copy of the military order.
4. You are a victim of stalking, sexual assault, or domestic violence.
So long as the specified conditions are met, tenants who are victims of domestic violence have a right to terminate their lease early. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-45.1)
This is completely against North Carolina’s landlord-tenant act.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Find a Replacement Tenant
Without justification to break a lease legally, you can face heavy financial ramifications. Luckily, in North Carolina, there is a provision in the law that can minimize the burden.
Under the law, the landlord has a duty to find a replacement tenant as quickly as possible. That means you may only end up paying for a portion of all the rent remaining under the lease.
In re-renting the unit, the landlord can add legitimate expenses to your bill. For example, the costs of marketing the unit. Also, the landlord isn’t required to disregard his or her business in trying to rent your unit. They do not need to rent the unit for less than fair market value.
The landlord also doesn’t need to relax standards for acceptable tenants. For instance, accept someone with a questionable credit score.
Breaking a lease can sometimes be inevitable. In such a case, understanding the options before you rent is necessary. By doing so, you’ll be able to safeguard your rights and financial interests.