Collection of Rent if Tenant Breaches Lease Early

For landlords, the ideal tenant is one who signs a year-long lease, takes good care of the property, and always pays the rent on time. But many landlords come to learn that tenants won’t always be ideal.

When tenants move out before the end of their lease, landlords can end up in a precarious financial situation. They could sue the tenant for breach in an attempt to recover unpaid rent, but landlords must also make a reasonable effort to find new tenants, according to Maryland law. If a new tenant moves into the vacated unit, the previous tenant is responsible for payment of rent only for the time the unit was unoccupied.

Landlords may be fortunate enough to have tenants who never break their leases, but it’s always wise to prepare for that eventuality and understand the rights and obligations of both the tenant and the landlord.

The Enforceability of Oral Agreements

It’s not a common scenario, but occasionally, landlords allow tenants to occupy a rental property with only an oral lease agreement. In such situations, tenants may assume that if they move out early, the landlord has no legal remedy, but that’s untrue.

In Maryland, any lease longer than a year must be written, but oral leases are legally binding for terms of one year or less. Without documentation, state law presumes a lease is one year, and a landlord can sue a tenant who breaches an oral lease.

Acceptable Grounds for Breaking a Lease

Some situations allow tenants to breach a lease without suffering financial penalties. Maryland law allows members of the military to break a lease if they receive a permanent change of station notice or are ordered on-duty for a period of more than three months. They must provide a 30-day written notice and proof of their military orders, and the lease terminates 30 days from the date the notice is given (even if notice was given in the middle of a month).

This exception does not apply to members of the military who, having been informed of available housing on their military base, want to move, but are not being relocated.

The Obligations of Co-signers

When tenants seem well qualified but lack either the monthly income or credit history to occupy a rental property, a landlord may allow that tenant to move in, if another person will serve as co-signer. If that tenant should fail to pay rent or breach the lease, a landlord may pursue legal action against a co-signer to collect unpaid rent.

Types of Eviction

In order to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent or for violating terms of a lease, a landlord must obtain an order through the District Court of Maryland. If granted, an eviction does not absolve tenants of their obligation to pay rent for the full term of the lease. And while a reasonable effort must be made to find new tenants for the vacant property, if landlords own more than one vacant unit, they are not required to steer potential new tenants toward the unit vacated by the evicted tenants.

There is one type of eviction that could relieve tenants of their financial obligations: constructive eviction. That term means that a tenant chose to move because the landlord failed to resolve problems which interfered with the tenant’s “quiet enjoyment” of the property – for example, another tenant who blasts loud music night and day.

If a tenant can prove a claim of constructive eviction, a landlord may be required to pay that tenant’s moving expenses, attorney fees, and other associated costs.

Lusk Law, LLC, Attorneys at Law, is dedicated to assisting property owners with landlord law, helping to avoid litigation when possible, and actively representing our clients in court when litigation is necessary. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to landlords in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County, and other counties in Maryland.

With over a decade of experience in representing landlords, we’re ready to offer a consultation concerning your rights. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.

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