Renters: Know Your Rights if You Want to Move Out

Rental leases are legally binding contracts, so breaking one is not a simple matter. Unless your landlord agrees to let you terminate a tenancy early or sublet for the remainder of the lease term, walking away from a lease can cause difficulties.  Fortunately, Missouri law allows you to break a lease under certain conditions. Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

1.   The rental unit violates Missouri health or safety codes. Local and state housing laws require landlords to provide safe, clean, and habitable housing. If they fail to do so and you have to move to avoid injury or illness, courts may conclude that you were ‘constructively evicted’. This is an extension of a legal doctrine called the implied warranty of habitability, which developed in response to slumlords. The doctrine generally holds that tenants are not responsible for rent when conditions fundamental to basic living, such as hot water, flushing toilets, adequate sanitation (lack of bedbugs, major leaks, mold, etc.), and so forth are persistently absent. Minor annoyances are not usually considered sufficient grounds. For legal considerations, it is also essential that you provide some record of any violations and notice to the landlord. If, for example, your toilet is clogged this obviously does not give you carte blanche to immediately break a lease; rather, the landlord is given a reasonable period in which to remedy the complaint.

2.   Your landlord is harassing you. It is illegal for a landlord or property manager to intentionally create a situation so uncomfortable for you that you feel compelled to move. Examples of harassing actions include deliberately disturbing your peace and quiet, shutting off utilities without justification, revoking services provided in the lease, and refusing to carry out legally required repairs.

3.   Your landlord is violating your privacy. Although Missouri state law does not indicate the amount of notice your landlord must provide to enter your unit, this does not give them free rein to repeatedly violate your right to privacy. If they keep carrying out meaningless inspections and disturb you at times when you should reasonably expect privacy (e.g., late at night), you can claim constructive eviction and leave. It is always a good idea to record whatever you can in this regard to provide evidence for possible litigation.

4.   You are beginning active military duty. The federal War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows you to terminate your lease early if you enter active military service. You must provide your landlord with written notice at least 15 days before departure. Any retaliation on the part of the landlord is prohibited by state and federal law.

Even if you don’t have legally recognized grounds for breaking your lease, your landlord is not allowed to simply charge you for the total remaining rent due under the agreement. Missouri law requires them to make reasonable efforts to re-rent the apartment. You are only obligated to pay the amount of rent that the landlord actually loses because you moved out. So if you move and they find a new tenant a month later, you would only owe your landlord one month’s rent or for the time that the unit was vacant.

Here is a useful resource from the Attorney General’s office that provides a more in-depth summary of key points of Missouri landlord-tenant law: https://www.ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/publications/landlord-tenantlaw.pdf?sfvrsn=4

If you suspect that your landlord is somehow in violation of the law, an experienced Kansas City tenants’ rights attorney may be able to help you remedy the situation. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact tenants’ rights attorney Bryce Bell at Bell Law today.

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Bell Law, LLC is dedicated to the fair, equitable treatment of its clients and the resolution of their financial claims and/or personal safety and well-being.