Landlord-Tenant: When Is It OK To Leave Early?

Most tenants move fairly often. There are no real roots holding the tenant where she is, and lots of reasons arise to move on. A bad apartment . . . a new job . . . a new boyfriend . . . you name it. Few tenants who come to see us have been in the premises for even a year before they want or need to leave.

But be careful why and how you leave. Do it for the wrong reason or in the wrong way and you are liable to leave wearing a judgment in the thousands which will haunt you for some time, as well as a black mark on both your credit and the landlord lists (which will make it difficult for you to rent again).

The instances when the Landlord-Tenant Act clearly permits you to leave early are when the condition of your living space falls in violation of building codes relating to health and safety (e.g., mold), or when your living space is not “fit or habitable” (e.g., overrun with scorpions), or when the common areas outside your living space are not “clean and safe”, (e.g., broken glass and gangs), or when basic services (electric, plumbing, heating, A/C, etc.) are not in “good and safe working order”, or when there are not “appropriate receptacles” for trash, or when there is not a “reasonable” supply of running or hot water.

But watch out for two things . . .

First, you cannot leave without giving 5-day, written notice to the landlord of the problem and your intent to leave. You can go only after the landlord fails to remedy the problem in those five days. But if you have done it right and for the right reason, your rental obligation ends on the fifth day, and you are entitled to the return of your security deposit (less acceptable deductions).

Second, notice that the events justifying your leaving are not matters of convenience but rather matters of urgency, like losing your air-conditioning in the summer or being drowned by multiple roof leaks. Every woman should be able to have a working refrigerator, but the lack of one does not make the premises uninhabitable. For this sort of thing, you will have to use the self-help statute, which lets you subtract for this sort of problem after notice and up to a certain amount, but does not allow you to leave.

[This is a short summary, and is not meant to be a substitute for going to see an attorney who represents residential tenants.]