How to Break Your Lease Without Penalty in Florida

••• Hero Images/Hero Images/GettyImages

Breaking a lease can be one of the worst financial decisions you ever make because you cannot break a lease unless you have a legal reason to do so. If you walk away without a compelling reason, then the landlord is within his rights to charge you for the full amount of rent right up until the end of the lease term. In Florida, there are just four situations when you can get out of your lease early and penalty-free.

What Does Breaking a Lease Mean Anyway?

If you leave the rental unit before a fixed-term lease expires and you stop paying the rent, then you're breaking the lease. A fixed-term lease is one that has a definite start and end date. Suppose, for example, that you sign a lease for 12 months starting Jan. 1, 2019. This lease expires at the end of Dec. 31, 2019. You are legally bound to pay rent right up to that date even if you stop living in the premises.

If you abandon the property before that date (and stop paying the rent), then you've broken the lease. The landlord can come after you for the remainder of the rent that you owe.

There's another type of lease called a periodic tenancy, which is sometimes referred to as a month-to-month tenancy. This tenancy has no definite end date; it simply continues until the landlord or the tenant gives notice to vacate the property. State law determines how much notice you need to give. The notice period is usually 30 or 60 days and, as long as you give the correct notice, the lease will end when the notice expires. You don't need a reason to serve the notice and you won't have to pay a penalty.

Four Ways to Get Out of a Lease in Florida

There are just four situations when breaking a lease in Florida is justified. These situations include:

  1. The lease contains an early termination clause.  
  2. Active military service.
  3. Violation of privacy.
  4. Health and safety violations.

If any of these situations apply, then you usually can terminate your lease early without penalty.

Leases With an Early Termination Clause

It's not especially common to have an early-termination clause in a short-term housing lease but some tenant-friendly leases may give you the option of terminating the lease early in hardship situations. This includes job loss, job relocation, divorce or a family health crisis. Check the lease to see what's permitted.

If the lease does contain an early termination clause, there are usually some conditions. For example, you may have to give 30-days' written notice or provide a letter from your healthcare provider. Understand that you must follow the instructions to the letter or your early termination notice may not be valid.

For example, if the lease requires you to give 30-days written notice of termination, then it's not enough to call your landlord and tell him that you've lost your job and you're moving out. The landlord could reasonably say that you have not terminated the lease properly and therefore still owe the rent.

Terminate Under the Military Clause

By federal law, members of the armed forces can break a lease without penalty if they receive orders for deployment longer than 90 days. Armed forces are defined broadly and include deployment by the activated National Guard, the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

You must prepare a written notice of termination and serve this on the landlord. The lease will end 30 days after the next rent due date. For instance, if rent is due on the first day of every month, and you serve notice on May 10, then the lease will end on June 30, which is 30 days after the next rent payment date (June 1).

The Landlord Violates Tenant Privacy Rights

In Florida, a landlord can enter his rental unit to inspect and repair the premises, provide any services you've agreed upon, or show purchasers, potential tenants and contractors around. However, he must give you at least 12 hours' notice of the entry unless it's a genuine emergency.

If your landlord keeps entering the unit for reasons that are not permitted, or fails to give you notice, then he is violating your right to privacy. His behavior could even constitute harassment in some situations, which is a crime. If the landlord changes the locks or switches off utilities – which some unscrupulous landlords may do to force you to leave – then he has constructively evicted you. This is a legal term that means the landlord has done something to make the property uninhabitable.

In any of these situations, you almost certainly will be justified in breaking the lease with no further rent responsibility. It's a good idea to write to the landlord, explaining why you are leaving and listing the specific incidences of harassment or privacy violations. You can rely on this letter if the landlord ever tries to sue you for the remainder of the rent.

The Premises Violates Florida Building Codes

Florida landlords have a duty to provide safe and habitable housing. This means that the home must be fit for humans to live in and must comply with Florida health and building codes. If you wind up in a unit with a leaking roof or no sanitation, for example, and the landlord fails to fix the problem in a reasonable time, then you have a good argument that the landlord has constructively evicted you. This means you can walk away from the lease with no further liability for the rent.

The violation must be so severe that you are compelled to move out before the lease ends. Sewage backing up in the pipes almost certainly will qualify as a severe repair problem; a broken toilet seat will not. There's also a strict process to follow. You must give the landlord written notice of the repair and give him at least 7 days to fix the problem before you're entitled to break the lease.

If the landlord tries to sue you for the remaining rent, the court can insist that you pay the amount of rent owed into the court's bank account. The court holds this in escrow until the case is decided. If the judge decides that you did not have the legal right to break the lease after all, then the money is forfeited to the landlord.

No Duty to Mitigate Damages in Florida

In most states, landlords have a duty to mitigate their damages when a tenant quits a lease. Mitigation means taking steps to reduce your losses. In practical terms, this means the landlord should find a new tenant as quickly as possible instead of relying on you to pay all the remaining rent if you move out before the lease ends.

However, landlords in Florida are not obligated to mitigate damages. They can choose to re-rent the premises, in which case, you are liable for the rent from the day you move out to the day the new tenants move in. It could reduce your financial obligations significantly if the landlord finds a new tenant quickly and there are several months left on the lease. But equally, the landlord can choose to do nothing and hold you liable for the remaining rent

If you have to break your lease and move out without a legal justification, the best solution is to work something out with the landlord. She may be willing to let you off the hook in exchange for forfeiting your security payment or paying 2 months' rent to break the lease instead of all the rent that's due. You're always free to negotiate, and there could be a whole lot of cash at stake if you have several months of rent remaining on the lease.