When tenants sign on for a lease to an apartment or house for a specific period of time (e.g. one year), they generally expect to stay for the entire duration. However, life happens and sometimes the tenant wants to leave early. Maybe the tenant got married and wants to move in with a new spouse. Perhaps the tenant’s mother is ill and he needs to move back in to take care of her. Even worse, the tenant just lost his job and realizes that he cannot pay for the rent for the rest of the lease term. Either way, the tenant will have to break the agreement with the landlord and get out of the rental unit sooner. Does a tenant have the right to terminate a lease early?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. A typical lease creates a year long obligation for both sides. The landlord agrees to lend you the premises for the entirety of the year and keep it in good repair. The tenant agrees to pay rent for the entire lease term, whether or not he or she stays in the rental unit. Even if the tenant leaves, it will not relieve him or her of his contractual obligations to pay rent. This doesn’t mean that the landlord won’t agree to an early termination or some kind of nominal penalty, but he or she doesn’t have to.
However, Michigan provides some statutory provisions that allow a tenant to break a lease early without any penalty:
TENANT IS NO LONGER ABLE TO LIVE INDEPENDENTLY (MCL 554.601a)
- “A rental agreement shall provide that a tenant who has occupied a rental unit for more than 13 months may terminate a lease by a 60-day written notice to the landlord if 1 of the following occurs:”
- “The tenant becomes eligible during the lease term to take possession of a subsidized rental unit in senior citizen housing and provides the landlord with written proof of that eligibility.” MCL 554.601a(1)(a).
- “The tenant becomes incapable during the lease term of living independently, as certified by a physician in a notarized statement.” This can be due to old age, disease or infirmity. MCL 554.601a(1)(b).
TENANT OR CHILD IS A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT OR STALKING (MCL 554.601b)
- “A tenant who has a reasonable apprehension of present danger to the tenant or his or her child from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking while that person is a tenant shall be released from his or her rental payment obligation in accordance with the requirements of this section after submittal of written notice of his or her intent to seek a release and written documentation that the tenant has a reasonable apprehension of present danger to the tenant or his or her child from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Submittal of written notice shall be made by certified mail.” MCL 554.601b(1).
- “The requirement… that a tenant provide written documentation that the tenant has a reasonable apprehension of present danger to the tenant or his or her child from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking is satisfied by providing 1 or more of the following written documents to the landlord:”
- A valid personal protection order or court order removing the abusive person from the home. MCL 554.601b(3)(a).
- A valid probation order, conditional release order, or parole order indicating that the individual is subject to conditions reasonably necessary to protect the tenant or child of the tenant, including a condition that the individual is to have no contact with the tenant or child of the tenant. MCL 554.601b(3)(b).
- A written police report that has resulted in the filing of charges by the prosecuting attorney that has jurisdiction over the matter if the charges were filed not more than 14 days before submittal of the tenant’s written notice. MCL 554.601b(3)(c).
- A written police report that has resulted in the filing of charges by the prosecuting attorney that has jurisdiction over the matter if the charges were filed more than 14 days before submittal of the tenant’s written notice required, BUT the tenant must demonstrate a verifiable threat of present danger from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. MCL 554.601b(3)(d).
- A report that is verified by a qualified third party and states under penalty of perjury (and signed by the tenant and the qualified third party) that there exists facts that demonstrating that the tenant is being stalked on the rental premises. MCL 554.601b(3)(e). “Qualified third party” means a sexual assault or domestic violence counselor, a medical health professional, a mental health professional or a member of the clergy from a recognized tax-exempt church.
RENTAL UNIT IS UNFIT FOR HABITATION (MCL 554.139)
- In every lease or license of residential premises, the landlord covenants:
- “That the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties.” MCL 554.139(1)(a).
- “To keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, and to comply with the applicable health and safety laws of the state and of the local unit of government where the premises are located, except when the disrepair or violation of the applicable health or safety laws has been caused by the tenants willful or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct.” MCL 554.139(1)(b).
- The condition of the home must be so serious that it is unlivable and amounts to a constructive eviction. “[C]onstructive eviction occurs when the act of the landlord is of such character as to deprive the tenant of the beneficial use and enjoyment of the whole or any part of the demised property, to the extent he is thus deprived; constructive eviction can also be found where a landlord fails to supply essential services.” Belle Isle Grill Corp. v City of Detroit, 256 Mich App 463, 474; 666 NW2d 271 (2003). Lack of heat in an apartment during winter months may amount to a constructive eviction.
CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE WITHHELD BY HOUSING AGENCY (MCL 125.530)
- “A certificate of compliance shall be issued on condition that the premises remain in safe, healthful and fit condition for occupancy. If upon reinspection the enforcing agency determines that conditions exist which constitute a hazard to health or safety, the certificate shall be immediately suspended as to affected areas, and the areas may be vacated…” MCL 125.530(2).
- “When a certificate is withheld pending compliance, no premises which have not been occupied for dwelling or rooming purposes shall be so occupied, and those premises which have been or are occupied for dwelling or rooming purposes may be ordered vacated until reinspection and proof of compliance in the discretion of the enforcing agency.” MCL 125.530(4).
- “The duty to pay rent in accordance with the terms of any lease or agreement or under the provisions of any statute shall be suspended and the suspended rentals shall be paid into an escrow account… during that period when the premises have not been issued a certificate of compliance, or when such certificate, once issued, has been suspended.” MCL 125.530(3).
- “Rents due for the period during which rent is suspended shall be paid into an escrow account established by the enforcing officer or agency, to be paid thereafter to the landlord or any other party authorized to make repairs, to defray the cost of correcting the violations.” MCL 125.530(4).
TENANT STARTS ACTIVE MILITARY DUTY (50 U.S.C. §3955)
- According to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a tenant at his or her option may terminate the lease of premises occupied, or intended to be occupied, by a servicemember or a servicemember’s dependents for a residential, professional, business or agricultural purpose at any time after:
- “The lease is executed by or on behalf of a person who thereafter and during the term of the lease enters military service”; 50 U.S.C. §3955(b)(1)(A).
- OR “the servicemember, while in military service, executes the lease and thereafter receives military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit, or as an individual in support of a military operation, for a period of not less than 90 days.” 50 U.S.C. §3955(b)(1)(B).
- The termination of a lease for military service is made “by delivery by the lessee of written notice of such termination, and a copy of the servicemember’s military orders, to the lessor (or the lessor’s grantee), or to the lessor’s agent (or the agent’s grantee).” 50 U.S.C. §3955(c)(1)(A).
- Delivery of the notice to terminate the lease with the servicemember’s military orders can be accomplished by hand-delivery, private business carrier, or by first class mail. 50 U.S.C. §3955(c)(2).
- For a lease that requires monthly rent payments, termination of the lease is effective 30 days after the first date on which the next rent payment is due AFTER the date the notice to terminate was delivered. 50 U.S.C. §3955(d)(1).
- The spouse of the tenant on a lease may terminate the lease during the one-year period beginning on the date of the tenant’s death, if the tenant dies while in military service, National Guard duty, Reserve duty or inactive-duty training. 50 U.S.C. §3955(a)(3).
If the tenant has a legal basis to terminate the lease under state and federal law but the landlord refuses to honor it, then there may be legal recourse in court for the landlord’s retaliation. Before walking away from any lease, it is advisable to speak to an experienced attorney to determine if your situation meets a legal exception. Even if you don’t have a strong case for early termination, a lawyer on your side may be able to negotiate a resolution with the landlord to minimize the legal consequences.
If you have questions about any landlord-tenant matter or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.