A lease is a legally binding agreement. It obligates both a landlord and the tenant to abide by its terms for a set period of time.

That said, circumstances may change and they may need to break their lease agreement. As a landlord, it’s important that you understand the rules and regulations when it comes to a tenant breaking a lease. 

In today’s article, you’ll get to know the unjustified and justified reasons for early lease termination in Virginia and the rights you and your tenant have under the statewide Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. 

Rental Agreement in Virginia 

To begin with, having a clear rental agreement is essential. This will help keep any confusion or misunderstanding to a minimum. A solid lease agreement is one that includes all important terms to protect rental properties, its owner, and its occupants. In regards to breaking a lease, you’ll want to do the following: 

  • Let your tenant know the penalty for unjustifiably breaking their lease. Also, state what rights they have for justifiably breaking their lease. 
  • State how much notice your tenant is required to give to end their periodic lease agreement. Virginia law requires tenants to provide their landlord with written notice at least 30 days prior to terminating their month-to-month agreement or at least 120 days prior notice for one with no end date. Virginia doesn’t require tenants to provide written notice for fixed-end-date leases. 
  • State your responsibility to re-rent the unit to a new tenant. In Virginia, as a landlord, you have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit after a tenant has moved out.

person in a suit signing a contract on their desk

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia 

The following reasons don’t offer Virginia tenants any legal protection against penalties for early lease termination: 

  • Breaking the lease in Virginia to buy a house
  • Breaking the lease to relocate to another town for a job or school 
  • Breaking the lease to either upsize or downsize their property 
  • Breaking the lease to move in with a significant other
  • Breaking the lease to get closer to friends and family

Breaking the lease agreement for any of the aforementioned reasons will usually be accompanied by legal and financial ramifications for the tenants. To avoid a complicated legal process the tenant must either have a legal justification for ending their lease or seek mutual termination agreement with the landlord. 

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia 

As a landlord, it’s also important that you know what lease termination reasons are legally justified under Virginia state law and what criteria must be met. The reasons are as follows:

Early Lease Termination Clause

Some landlords include this clause to allow a tenant to legally break their lease early. In turn, however, tenants must meet certain requirements. One of those requirements is providing advance notice; usually 30 days. An advance notice helps give the landlord adequate time to re-lease the property.

two people sitting at desk looking over a contract with a house figurine and judges gavel next to them

The other requirement is the payment of an early termination fee, which is normally equivalent to the rent of two months. This helps protect the landlord’s financial bottom line while they look for a new tenant.

Active Duty 

Tenants who are active military service members and have been relocated have a right to break their lease early under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. That said, there are a number of things that a tenant must do in accordance with the act including, but not limited to, providing proof that they intend to remain on active duty for the next 90 days or more, and a copy of the relocation letter. 

Even once they’d provided all the necessary proof, the lease still won’t end immediately. After delivery of the written notice, it should terminate 30 days after the next rent cycle has begun. Servicemembers in Virginia include members of the armed forces, the activated National Guard, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Warranty of Habitability

As a landlord in Virginia, it’s important that you keep your rental property habitable. It not only shows a tenant that you care for their well-being, but it also helps you stay legally compliant. 

plumber in a blue cap and shirt using a wrench to tighten a screw on a pipe

In Virginia, the following are some standards that a property must meet to be deemed habitable: 

  • Clean and sanitary
  • Has working plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems
  • Is free of mold
  • Cold and hot running water
  • Adequate trash receptacles
  • Properly working smoke alarms 

Landlord Harassment 

Landlord harassment can be cause to break a lease. Landlords know that treating a tenant fairly, equally, and respectfully is key to being successful. Therefore, it’d be in your best interests, as a landlord, to avoid doing any of the following: 

  • Entering the rental unit whenever you like without advance notice 
  • Threatening a tenant
  • Turning off utilities
  • Changing the locks
  • Removing their personal belongings from the unit 

Virginia Lease Agreement Violation

As previously stated, a landlord has an obligation to provide their tenant with a habitable rental property. If you don’t, as the landlord, you’d be in violation of the lease and your tenant may choose to exercise any legal options available to them like breaking their lease by serving you 30 days advance notice. 

Domestic Violence

Victims of criminal assault or abuse have certain rights under Virginia law. To terminate the lease, the tenant must provide their Virginia landlord a 30 days advance notice and a copy of the protection order. 

Mandatory Disclosures

There are certain disclosures that a landlord must provide their Virginia tenant before they move in. They include disclosure on:

  • Defective drywall 
  • Lead-based paint 
  • Prior use of the unit in the manufacture of methamphetamine 
  • Locations near a military air installation 

Bottom Line

With this guide, landlords now have a better understanding of what to do when a tenant breaks their lease early.  All landlords should also stay informed of landlord-tenant laws, Fair Housing Act, security deposit law, and the legal eviction process. For expert advice, Keyrenter Richmond can help. We’re one of the leading property management companies in Richmond and the surrounding areas. 

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regard to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.