Breaking a Lease in Texas (To Buy a House)

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Mike Romano

Aug 31, 2023

Mike Romano is a mortgage industry veteran with over 20 years of experience. His expertise spans mortgage technology, credit risk, and loan origination, and he has spoken at many mortgage and fintech conferences. He has a Bachelor's and MBA from the University of California, Berkeley and currently resides in Austin, TX. NMLS # 2515901

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    If you signed a lease, you probably intended to stay the entire duration. But life comes at you fast, opportunities come and go quickly, and you may find yourself with a real reason to break your lease early.

    However, there are a few relatively specific laws about breaking a lease in Texas that you should be aware of before taking action. It’s possible to break a lease without penalty, but only if your reason for leaving early is within the bounds of the law.

    In this article, we talk about the penalties you could incur for breaking a lease to buy a house. We also go over several other situations in which you might be able to end your lease without penalty.  

    Buying a home in Texas? Down payment assistance can help

    Once you’ve moved beyond your lease, the next step is putting together a down payment to buy a house. There are a number of down payment assistance programs in Texas that can help you make a larger upfront investment in your home.  

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      Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal or financial advice. Please consult an attorney, mortgage lender, or CPA for guidance on your specific situation.

      Breaking a lease in Texas: When is it okay?

      Based on state laws (Texas Property Code), there are certain situations in which breaking a lease in Texas is allowed, without penalty. However, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney or the Texas Tenants Union before you end your lease early, even if you believe you can legally do so.

      In most cases, tenants in Texas are required to take certain actions before they can legally break their lease, even if the landlord has violated the lease or legal statutes. An attorney will help you make sure you’ve fulfilled your legal obligations before you end your lease.

      According to state property codes, you are generally allowed to break your lease in Texas under the following conditions: 

      Your landlord does not maintain livable housing

      Your landlord is responsible for maintaining rental housing that meets the habitability standards set by state and local codes.

      You might be able to break your lease if there are problems with your rental unit which are severe enough that “the condition materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” (Title 8, Chapter 92.056)

      However, this same section of the Texas Property Code also outlines steps that you must follow before you can end your lease, such as notifying your landlord in writing that your unit needs repairs.

      Your rental property does not have a working smoke alarm

      Landlords in Texas are required to maintain working smoke alarms in their rental units. At the start of every lease period, the landlord must inspect the smoke alarm in the unit and perform any necessary maintenance to ensure it works properly. (Title 8, Chapter 92.259)

      If the landlord does not maintain a working alarm in your rental, ending your lease early is one of the options laid out in Texas Property Code. (Title 8, Chapter 92.260

      Your landlord does not disclose management information

      If you request it, your landlord is legally required to give you certain information about ownership and management of the rental property. This includes the name and address (or PO Box) of both the property owner and the property management company. (Title 8, Chapter 92.201)

      If the landlord does not provide this information even after you request it in writing, you may be able to break your lease. (Title 8 Chapter 92.505)

      Your landlord turns off utilities or prevents you from accessing your rental property

      If your landlord wrongfully cuts off your water, gas, electric, or wastewater utilities, you may be able to break your lease. Under certain circumstances, landlords are allowed to turn off utilities for a limited time. This includes for “bona fide repairs, constructions, or emergency.” (Title 8, Chapter 92.008

      The same is true if your landlord wrongfully prevents you from accessing your rental property. (Title 8, Chapter 92.0081

      You enter active military service 

      Tenants who enter active military service are allowed to break their lease under both federal and Texas state law.

      Texas law states that tenants who enter active duty in the uniformed services can break their lease after giving their landlord evidence of their entry into military service. Once the landlord receives notice, the lease ends 30 days after the next rent due date. (Title 8, Chapter 92.017)

      You experience stalking, assault, or abuse

      Victims of stalking, assault, or abuse may break their lease without penalty. The law requires tenants to provide certain documentation of the incident(s) and give 30 days notice before they stop paying rent on the property. (Title 8, Chapter 92.016)

      You are a victim of domestic violence

      According to Texas Family Code Law, a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence may legally break their lease without penalty as long as they notify the landlord 30 days before they stop paying rent. (Title 4, Chapter 71.004)

      If you need help navigating domestic violence or leaving an unsafe situation, you can call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Hotline to speak to an advocate. 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233)

      Can I break a lease in Texas to buy a house?

      Technically, you can’t break a lease in Texas to buy a house if that is your only reason to end the lease early. However, a lease is a contract. Like any other contract, you can attempt to negotiate your terms. Your landlord isn’t legally obligated to work with you in this situation, but they may be willing to do so.  

      There are a few actions you can take that might make your landlord more receptive to letting you move out, without penalty, before your lease is up.

      Notify your landlord ASAP

      First, explain the situation to your landlord as soon as you know you need to break your lease. The more advance notice you give, the more likely it is they’ll be willing to let you leave your rental early. Notify your landlord of your intent to move out early in writing, and also talk to them in person, if possible.

      Offer to help find a new tenant 

      To help strengthen your negotiating power, offer to help your landlord find a new tenant or subletter. If you know anyone who is a good rental tenant and needs a new place, this is a perfect time to make a recommendation.

      Make it easy for the landlord to show the rental to potential tenants before you move out. Keep it clean and organized so the property shows well to new potential tenants. It may be inconvenient, but it’s better than paying the penalty for breaking your lease.

      Be a good tenant to the last day

      Finally, be a good tenant up until the very last day, including leaving your place spotless when you move out. Obviously, you’ll do this because you want to get your deposit back, if possible.

      But if you’re breaking your lease, this is especially important because most penalties for breaking a lease depend on the landlord taking action on those penalties. A happy landlord might be less likely to do so. 

      What is the penalty for breaking a lease?

      Under the law, there is no set monetary penalty for breaking a lease in Texas. When you break a lease without a legal reason to do so, you simply remain responsible for fulfilling the terms of your lease contract, even though you have moved out of the rental.

      Here’s what that means:

      • You are responsible for paying the rent for the duration of your lease, or for paying rent until the landlord finds a new tenant, whichever comes first.

      Texas Property Code requires landlords to make a good faith effort to find a replacement tenant. Your landlord can’t just leave the property vacant and keep attempting to collect rent from you without trying to fill the vacancy. (Title 8, Chapter 91.006) 

      • You will lose your deposit. Your landlord is entitled to keep your deposit to help cover any rent remaining on your lease period.
      • Your landlord can sue you for any rent you owe, if you do not voluntarily pay.
      • Your landlord can report your unpaid rent to a credit bureau or send your lease account to a collections agency, which negatively impacts your credit. 
      • Your landlord probably won’t be a good reference if you need to rent in the future.

      As we said before, it might be possible to mitigate or avoid these issues by working with your landlord. If you need to break your lease to buy a house, it’s totally worth the time and effort to talk to your landlord and see if you can work out an arrangement. 

      Can I break my lease in Texas because of…?

      There are a lot of reasons you might want to break your lease, many of which aren’t specifically mentioned in Texas state law. Below, we’ve included basic answers to commonly asked questions about breaking a lease. 

      We should point out again, though, that this isn’t legal advice. A lawyer can help you verify whether or not you can legally break your lease. The Texas Tenants’ Union is a great place to start for guidance and a referral to legal help. You can visit their website or call them at (214) 823-2733.

      Roaches, rats, or other pests

      Under Texas Property Code, a severe pest problem may allow you to break your lease. However, the pest problem needs to be serious enough that “the condition materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” (Title 8, Chapter 92.056

      Since roaches, rats, and other pests are not specifically cited in the language of the law, it’s best to have a lawyer help you determine if the problem is severe enough that you could legally break your lease.

      Job relocation

      Entering active military service is the only situation specifically mentioned under Texas law as a viable reason to break a lease. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to break your lease because of any other job relocation, unless you work out an arrangement with your landlord. 

      Medical reasons

      There are no specific provisions in the Texas Property Code that allow tenants to break a lease for medical reasons. But there might be situations in which your medical condition qualifies as a disability under Fair Housing Law. As we mentioned above, Fair Housing is tricky, so you’ll definitely want an attorney to help you make your case.

      Safety

      Unsafe living conditions are covered under the “livable housing” section of Texas Property Code. Landlords are required to promptly fix any “condition that materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” (Title 8, Chapter 92.056)

      This includes providing basic living essentials such as heat and water. It also requires rental properties to have reasonable protection from criminal invasion, such as adequate locks on doors. If your rental unit is legitimately unsafe, you may have a case to break your lease.

      A disability

      The Texas Property Code does not list disability as a covered reason for breaking a lease. That being said, your situation might be covered under Federal and State Fair Housing Laws

      Fair Housing laws get pretty complex, so we suggest you contact a lawyer or tenants union for guidance. But broadly speaking, a tenant with a disability is allowed to request “reasonable accommodations” to a rental property, such as grab bars in the bathroom. (The tenant usually has to pay for these accommodations, though.)

      If your landlord refuses, or is unable, to accommodate your disability, you might be able to make a case for breaking your lease early. But there is a lot of gray area here. You’ll want to get legal advice if you suspect your landlord is violating Fair Housing Laws.  

      Buying a house in Texas? Here’s what else you should know

      There’s a lot to learn when you’re buying a house. Make sure to check out our other must-read articles on first-time homeownership in Texas:

      Get help buying in Texas with down payment assistance 

      Saving up for a large down payment can be even trickier than getting out of your lease. 

      You could potentially qualify for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in down payment assistance (DPA) to help you overcome this challenge.

      Unfortunately, up until now, there’s been no place where you could easily find and compare all DPA programs available to you. 

      Stairs Financial solves this problem by providing you with a single source of information on down payment assistance. 

      Stairs connects you with an experienced lender who works with down payment assistance programs, then shows you all of the DPA programs you might qualify for, so you can quickly and easily compare programs side-by-side. 

      Learn more about how Stairs can help.

      Find up to $15,000 towards a home 🏠

      Compare local down payment assistance and find a mortgage, fast.

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