How to Break an Apartment Lease in Tennessee

Apartment leases, like separation agreements, sales contracts, military enlistments and publishing commitments, all qualify as contracts under common law. Each of these, and many other examples, contains the elements of a contract: mutual assent to a valid offer and acceptance, adequate consideration, capacity and legality. If the terms are breached, penalties are imposed on the party that acted in bad faith or otherwise failed to comply.

Yet the law also recognizes circumstances where the contract may not be valid at all. Breaking an apartment lease in Tennessee, therefore, can be an act of willingness to absorb the cost or readiness to challenge the validity of the lease in court.

Elements of a Tennessee Lease

The form of a Tennessee apartment lease differs little from those of other states. It begins with the assent of the landlord and the tenant. Subsequently, the terms are delineated: the length of the lease is specified, the amount of money for rent along with dates due, provision for a security deposit, allowable uses of the unit, expectations regarding condition, provisions for or prohibitions against sub-letting, allowances and restrictions in terms of alterations and remodeling, utilities, maintenance, damages and the like.

Toward the middle of the document template, the issue of default emerges. While default is commonly recognized as a cessation of rental remittances, other actions and inactions can also constitute default. Criminal acts, violence and other illegal doings put a tenant in non-compliance. Violations of safety rules, unacceptable alterations, false information on a rental application and abandonment of the premises all qualify as non-compliance and, therefore, default.

Of course, the specifics vary from lease to lease, but these are regularly viewed as default triggers. At any rate, some leases are more clear about these matters than others.

Reasons for Breaking a Lease

When a tenant is thinking about how to break a lease in Tennessee, any number of motives might be present. Important to acknowledge is that the landlord can also be in breach of contract.

If it is determined that the living conditions are sub-standard (absence of consistently running water, for example) due to the landlord's negligence, the tenant has a strong case. Another good reason is if the landlord routinely enters the apartment without advance warning.

Should the apartment be illegal – for example, the building is zoned for four units and the tenant lives in one of six – the lease may lose its validity. In addition, active military service gives a tenant legal cover for breaking a lease in TN. Meanwhile, domestic violence is often seen by courts as a compelling circumstance in how to get out of a lease with an ex.

Making the Break

If you want out but also seek to avoid penalties, examine the lease, best with a lawyer, to make sure it conforms to the Tennessee Uniform Landlord and Tenant Act of 2020. If the lease is out of compliance, it may be open to challenge. If you fail to fit into the five legitimate categories noted above, the terms must show some deficiency for the departing tenant to make a case against it.

Otherwise, consider negotiating with the landlord. Recognize first that the property owner can very well depend on rents for livelihood, and the lease protects that security in a way. Explain your situation and reference your record as a tenant. The landlord might indeed have the right to demand all rental income covered by the lease yet might also consider a compromise, keeping the security deposit and accepting less than the full amount.