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Certain Tenants May Break Their Lease Without Penalty

March 9, 2018 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

The landlord-tenant relationship is a complicated one, in which there are often no true heroes or villains — in many cases, conflicts arise from basic differences in what the landlord needs, and what the tenant needs.

Suppose, for example, that one of your tenants is getting married soon and intends to move in with their spouse afterwards.  Issues can quickly arise.  The tenant has a two-year lease (with one year remaining).  If the tenant breaks their lease early, you might be able to see the reason in it, but you would still be left in an unenviable position where you are not receiving rent until you find a suitable replacement tenant.  New Jersey law would fortunately entitle you to sue and recover damages for the remainder of the lease (until you find a replacement tenant).

It’s worth noting, however, that breaking the lease early does not always give rise to an actionable claim for damages.  In New Jersey, certain exceptions have been carved out in landlord-tenant law.  Let’s take a brief look at these exceptions.

Tenants Qualified to Prematurely End Their Lease

Each of the exceptions has certain requirements that must be met.  As such, the mere fact that one of your tenants qualifies as one of the categories does not necessarily grant them the right to terminate their lease prematurely (without consequences).

Service Members

In New Jersey, service members who are entering the military are entitled to break their lease prematurely if they can show that: a) they are doing so after entering into military service, and b) they have received orders to permanent change their station, or deploy with a unit for at least three months.  The service member must give you a written notice of termination, along with a copy of their orders (granting them the exception).  In response, you must pay back their security deposit.

Domestic Violence Victims

Victims of domestic violence are also entitled to break their lease prematurely.  They must, however, be able to show that they are facing an imminent threat of serious physical harm, by being able to produce: a) a copy of a permanent restraining order; b) a record from law enforcement documenting the domestic violence at-issue; c) medical documentation proving the domestic violence; d) other certification of domestic violence from a specialist or licensed social worker.  Again, the tenant must give written notice of termination.

It’s worth noting that if the tenant vacates the premises, and there are co-tenants, those leases will automatically terminate, too.  You will have to enter new lease agreements with the remaining tenants.

Seniors Moving Into a Nursing Home or Income-Based Housing

Senior tenants (age 62 or older) who are accepted into a nursing home, or long-term care facility, may break their lease without penalty.  The tenant must be able to provide you with a written notice of termination, along with documentation that certifies that they “must” move into the facility.  Mere preference is not enough to obviate the senior tenant’s responsibility to pay out for the remainder of their lease.

Similarly, a senior tenant who is moving into income-based housing (low/moderate) may also break their lease prematurely, and without penalty, so long as they can produce documentation thereof.

Disabled Tenants

Disabled tenants — those who are suffering from a disability or illness to the degree that their income is significantly affected — may break their lease prematurely, but they must produce evidence of their disabling condition, justifying the termination of the lease.

Contact Griffin Alexander Today

If you are a residential landlord, and one of your tenants has violated their lease agreement and prematurely ended the lease term, or has evidenced an intent to do so, then you may be entitled to sue and recover damages for such violation.  In some cases, however, New Jersey law allows tenants to break their lease without suffering a penalty.  Navigating these definitions can be challenging without the aid of a skilled attorney who has experience handling residential tenancy conflicts based on New Jersey landlord tenant law.

Let the skilled attorneys at Griffin Alexander, P.C. assist you!

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