Can a Landlord Back Out of a Signed Lease?

Are you faced with a situation where your landlord is asking to back out of a lease soon after you both signed it?

If you are a tenant, this can be extremely upsetting.

After all, you have probably already given notice to your existing landlord, have stopped looking at other rental options, and may have already started making arrangements for the move.

Of course, if the landlord is threatening to back out after you have already moved in, it’s even worse. You have settled in, maybe your kids are already in school (if you have any), and your life has fallen into a nice rhythm. Such a move by the landlord could completely upset all of that.

So it’s perfectly legitimate to ask if this is even allowed.

In this article, I am going to answer that question and provide details on when this is permitted and provide some tips on what you can do to work through this.

If you have don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

As a general matter, a landlord may not back out of a signed lease unless the lease permits it, or state and local laws allow the landlord to terminate the lease based on other factors, such as domestic violence, illegal tenant activities, or other conditions covered by such laws.

Let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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A Quick Intro to Leases

A lease agreement is a legal contract between a landlord and a tenant that details the terms and circumstances of the renting arrangement.

This means that it is just as binding on the landlord as the tenant and if a landlord is seeking to terminate the lease, they need to either get the tenant’s consent or invoke a terminate right under the lease. Of course, there may be state and local laws that also permit termination (more on that later).

One of the key provisions in a lease is the lease term. That just means the specified duration of the lease. In many cases, it’s a year, but that can vary.

There are also usually provisions in the lease that allow termination if certain conditions are met. They often revolve around one party or the other not performing their obligations or the rental being unfit for habitation.

If a landlord wants to back out of the lease, they will need to find something in the lease (or applicable law) that allows them to terminate before the lease term ends.

If nothing like that exists, then they are not permitted to unilaterally end the tenancy. Second thoughts and cold feet are not acceptable reasons for backing out of a validly executed contract.

Now some leases are month to month, so in that case, the landlord has a lot more flexibility to end the lease because it naturally expires each month unless renewed. They can simply refuse to extend the month to month arrangement.

Ok, now that we’ve for the basics out of the way, let’s look into some of the most common situations where a landlord can back out of a signed lease.

Landlord Discovers that Tenant Provided False Information

One way a landlord may back out of a lease soon after they signed it is if they discover that the tenant lied during the application process. Many leases contain a provision that allows a landlord to terminate in this situation.

And even if it doesn’t, there may be claims that the landlord can invoke such as fraud in the inducement, which basically means the tenant lied to get a contract approved. If fraud in the inducement exists, the landlord should have the right to terminate the contract. Source

Of course, I am not providing legal advice here, so please consult a qualified attorney to get a definitive answer to your situation.

Lease Contains Early Termination Clause

Some leases contain an early termination clause that can be exercised by either party. If such a clause exists in the lease, the landlord can terminate the agreement without further liability.

Usually these provisions require some prior notice (in most cases, at least 30 days) so that the non-terminating party can make alternative arrangements.

Of course, as we’ve already covered, if the lease is a month to month lease, this can also allow a landlord to terminate quickly and without cause.

As with most landlord-tenant questions, a great first step is to carefully read over your lease to make sure you understand all of your rights and obligations.

Tenant Has Violated the Lease

Perhaps one of the most common ways in which a landlord can end a lease early is if the tenant has violated the terms of the lease.

Usually, this is due to nonpayment of rent, but other violations are also quite common, like subletting the apartment without consent, having a pet without authorization, inflicting damage to the property, and so on.

Usually these terminations happen while the tenant is already moved in, but a landlord can break a signed lease even before a tenant moves in if they have breached the contract.

State or Local Law Permits Termination

In some cases, there may be state or local laws that give landlords the ability to terminate a lease early.

Notable examples include cases of domestic violence, criminal activities such as drug dealing, and dramatic cases, such as severe fires that cause the rental to be uninhabitable.

While not common, these type of conditions can be legitimate grounds for early termination of a lease by a landlord (again, depending on applicable state and local rules).

What Happens if a Landlord is Illegally Breaching a Signed Lease?

Assuming that the landlord is not breaking the lease on valid grounds, it means they are violating the terms of the contract.

That means they may be opening themselves up to legal liability and even a lawsuit.

If they are violating fair housing laws and backing out of the lease due to unlawful discrimination, then they may be facing additional liability on those grounds.

If the tenant sues, landlords may be liable for damages resulting from the breach, including any prepaid rent, security deposits, moving expenses, and other damages or expenses arising from the landlord’s actions.

Obviously, at this point, things can get really complicated and you may want to engage the services of a lawyer.

If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.

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So there you have it – a clear answer to whether a landlord can back out of a signed lease as well as context on when a landlord can and cannot do this. Hope this has been helpful.

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