Landlords in Missouri require tenants to sign lease agreements prior to living in their rental properties. Basically, a lease is a contractually binding agreement between a landlord and a tenant. It runs for a set period and is renewable at the end of the lease agreement.
Generally, most tenants who sign a lease intend to stay put until it expires. However, despite the good intentions, a major life event may happen that make a tenant break their lease.
The major life event may be a divorce. It could also be job relocation. It’s also possible that the tenant may be schooling at the Missouri State University and only wants to stay in the apartment for the duration the school is in session.
Other reasons for breaking a lease include:
- Violation of privacy rights by the landlord.
- Habitability issues that impact on the tenant’s safety and health.
So, what next after your Missouri tenant breaks their lease agreement? Well, that’s the question this article is meant to answer. The following is everything you need to know in this regard.
Legally Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Missouri
Your tenant may be off the hook for paying all rent due under the lease under certain circumstances. The following are some of the circumstances.
1. An early lease termination clause exists.
Does your lease have an early termination clause? If so, then your tenant may be able to use it to break their lease.
Usually, early termination clauses require tenants to meet certain requirements. For example, a fee of two months’ worth of rent and adequate notice.
2. The tenant is starting active military service.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects tenants who are deployed or have received change of station orders. (War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. § § 501 and following). The protection starts from the day a servicemember enters active duty and ends ninety days later.
Servicemembers are those in “uniformed services.” They are armed forces, activated National Guard, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
To terminate their lease, the tenant must notify you of your intentions to start active military duty. You can also require them to show you proof of their deployment letters.
The tenancy doesn’t terminate immediately. It terminates 30 days after the next rent is due, regardless at what point the tenancy is.
3. The rental unit is no longer habitable.
As a landlord, you have a responsibility to provide your tenant with habitable housing under local and state housing codes. If you supply unlivable housing, you may be deemed to have “constructively evicted” your tenant.
Basically, constructive eviction is an unlawful way to try to get a tenant to vacate. And just like locking the tenant out or removing their belongings from their rented unit, all forms of constructive evictions are illegal.
So, what exactly makes a unit habitable? Well, here are some qualities of a habitable property.
- Availability of drinkable water.
- Availability of hot water and heat during cold weather.
- Working electricity.
- Working bathroom and toilet.
- Conformity to building codes.
- Reasonable protection from criminal intrusion.
- Pest-free premises.
- Functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
To terminate their lease, a tenant will need to follow certain requirements before moving out. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § § 441.570, 441.580).
4. The tenant’s privacy rights have been violated.
Missouri landlords have a right to enter their tenants’ premises. A landlord may need to do so to do any of the following important responsibilities.
- Inspect the property for damage.
- Show the unit to prospective tenants, buyers, or lenders.
- Carry out requested repairs.
- In case of emergencies.
- In case the tenant has abandoned the property.
Some states have laws that specify the amount of notice landlords must serve their tenants prior to entry. In the neighboring state of Illinois, landlords must serve their tenants a notice of at least 24 hours prior to entering. In Missouri, however, there is no statute for the notice period.
To avoid a potential harassment lawsuit, make sure to state the notice period in the lease. Notice periods of either a day or two are common.
5. You have harassed the tenant.
Landlord harassment occurs when a landlord creates conditions meant to force the tenant to leave. The conditions are a specific set of behaviors the law recognizes, and which can make a landlord get punished.
The following are examples of landlord harassment.
- Deliberately destroying the property of a tenant.
- Refusing to accept or acknowledge proper payment of rent.
- Withholding amenities, such as landscaping services or pool privileges, that were previously available.
- Failing to perform requested repairs in a timely and responsible manner.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in Missouri
In Missouri, landlords must take reasonable steps to try and re-rent their vacant units after a tenant leaves. In law, this is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. (§§ 535.300(3) (3)).
So, regardless of the reason for breaking the lease, your tenant may still be off the hook for paying all rent due under the lease. If you’re lucky and re-rent the unit quickly, then the tenant will only be responsible for the time the unit was vacant.
When trying to re-rent the unit, you don’t need to relax your standards. For instance, rent the property below fair market value or rent to tenants with poor credit.
But what happens if you are unable to find a replacement tenant quickly? In such a case, the tenant will be liable for paying all rent due under the lease.
Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Laws change and this information might not be updated at the time of your reading. If you have questions or need expert help, please consider hiring a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company like Pro X Property Management.
The Bottom Line
Breaking a lease in Missouri can have legally justified reasons, but oftentimes it's best to write the terms of breaking a lease into the wording of the lease agreement in order to protect the rights of landlords and tenants. For more help with navigating property management, consider hiring the services of Pro X Property Management. Contact us today to find out how we can help you!