A lease is a contract under Colorado landlord tenat law, and is as legally binding as any other contract. However, it is only binding to a point. Don’t want to experience the eviction process in Colorado? Then read on and learn about the circumstances under which a tenant can “break” a Colorado residential lease (in quotes because, in some cases, it is the landlord who has “broken” the terms of the lease, but here we are talking about tenants who decide to leave before the lease is up.) Know what is important to have a in a residential lease agreement.
Reasons Tenants Can Leave
The most common situation that arises is called “Constructive Eviction.” That’s when something has happened that renders the premises un-livable, or uninhabitable, or when the landlord fails to make needed repairs. The problem with Constructive Eviction arises at deciding exactly what this means! For example, your next door neighbors party until the early morning hours? Never! Or maybe the air conditioning is out? Inconvenient yes, but perhaps that doesn’t really render the place un-livable under Colorado landlord laws. Especially if the temperatures have been pleasant during the period the air conditioning hasn’t worked. How about when furnace won’t work, and it’s winter, and the landlord won’t timely fix the problem? That’s a whole different story! It is a lot more likely that you will be able to persuade a court that you constructively evicted which justified your leaving, and even the more so if small children are in residence.
That’s the rub with Constructive Eviction: How hard will it be to convince a court that you really needed to get out because the environment was not habitable which gave rise to an arguable reason for you terminating a lease. It’s a judgment call that a judge will have to make if the landlord takes you to court over the broken lease. That’s important, because what seems like a big deal to you might seem like a normal, or inconsequential thing to the judge. Remember, judges hear hundreds of these cases every year, likely many cases that are a lot worse than yours.
You might have a good Constructive Eviction case, but there is no way to cover the topic exhaustively in a blog. It’s one example of a situation where you really should consider consulting a Colorado real estate lawyer before acting.
There are, however, other reasons you can likely break your lease. One is if you are in the Military Reserves, and are called up for active duty. Federal Law protects all members of the Reserve in such cases.
Another is harassment by the landlord. And this is another situation that can be a little difficult to judge, and might be worth consulting a real estate attorney. First, let’s be clear: harassment is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and while it may be obvious to YOU, there is often a fine line between being friendly, or a good business person, and harassing someone, in the perception of a third party.
To be clear, anything that rises to the level of criminal behavior is likely to justify early lease termination. Cases of landlords spying or peeping on tenants would be an example of that sort of thing. But even just showing up at the door too often without providing reasonable notice can eventually be considered harassment, even if it doesn’t qualify as criminal behavior. If you would consider getting a restraining order against your landlord to stop some unwanted behavior, it might be easier to simply move out. A lawyer with expertise in real estate law can help guide you on this.
Reasons Tenants Generally Can NOT Break the Lease, Even if They Want To
Again, a lease is a binding contract, and the courts will in most cases enforce it. That means that if you break your lease early, without good cause, you can be held liable for a number of things, including the landlord’s cost to prepare the property to be re-leased, lost rents while the landlord looks for a new tenant, and more. For that reason, even though you WANT out of the lease, it’s often best to tough it out, or work out an arrangement with the landlord before leaving.
Among the reasons people often want out of their lease, but don’t have LEGAL grounds under the landlord tenant law of Colorado to break the lease, are these:
- the tenant got, or is getting, married
- there has been a problem with pests
- mold in the bathroom
- the tenant got a job offer in another city or state, and needs to move there to take the job, or is being relocated by the current employer, or lost a job or income
- a family member has joined the household, such as a son or daughter quitting college and moving back “home,” and now the tenant needs “a larger place”
- the tenant doesn’t like the neighbors, or finds them to be too loud, or has some other complaint about them (again, if the neighbors’ behavior rises to the level of criminal, you should call the police and consider seeking advice from a lawyer about getting out… but if it doesn’t, it could be difficult to convince a judge you really needed to leave the premises)
All of these are real-life issues that may make you WANT to break your lease, but are not justifiable reasons that a court will normally view as being reasonable. However, all is not lost! There are a few things you can still do that may reduce or eliminate the cost of breaking the lease.
When you Don’t Have (Legal) Cause to Break the Lease
Sometimes, it just makes sense to take the financial hit and get out, even if you don’t have any legal justification for doing so. In many cases, it comes down to mitigating the damages you will be liable for.
Read the Lease!
The first step is to read your Colorado residential lease agreement carefully! Some things may be written in which are unenforceable under landlord tenant law. An example of this would be a provision that the tenant is liable for the full amount of the lease, regardless of whether the property is re-leased during the lease period. The fact of the matter is, the landlord cannot “double-dip,” collecting full rent from one tenant, who has vacated, and collecting again from the new tenant. The landlord is obligated to take reasonable steps to mitigate the damage of the broken lease, and this includes attempting to timely re-leasing the property to another tenant.
If you don’t understand the lease, or if you think some provisions written in to the lease are unenforceable, it’s a good idea to have an attorney take a look at it for you. A little bit spent on advice now can be a lot better than a lot money lost in court later.
Negotiate with your Landlord
Once you understand the lease and all its provisions, it may be time to have a talk with your landlord. It’s possible that your landlord would be very happy to have your lease terminated, and a new lease with another tenant started. For example, if demand for rentals is up, and rents for similar places has gone up correspondingly, your landlord might just let you out with thirty-day’s notice. But if not, your landlord is still likely to discuss with you what terms are acceptable to her or him. However, your landlord may be pretty hard-nosed about the terms of the lease, but may not want to go to all the trouble of taking you to court or trying to collect money from you after you are gone. For this reason alone, many landlords will work with you when you tell them you need to find a way for early lease termination. How much will they work with you? That’s up to them. But it might depend in part on the relationship you have already established with them so far. The lesson here is, it’s always a good idea to keep a positive relationship with your landlord, and to be a responsible tenant while you are leasing from them.
Remember discussing the termination of the lease is a negotiation. It can help to explain–politely–why you want–or need to leave. It can also help to be willing to give a little! Offering some payment towards getting the place ready to re-lease, or agreeing to patch every nail-hole in the walls and touch up the paint yourself, these sorts of things sometimes make it relatively painless for the landlord to let you out early. And that’s the key: If the landlord finds an arrangement that they think works to their favor, they are much more likely to go along with you, even though it means a little trouble finding a new tenant. If they DON’T find a reason to think it’s going to work in their favor, they won’t be motivated to work with you.
You may also be in a position to help find a new tenant for them. Assuming you are leaving, not because the property or the landlord is a problem, but just because your life circumstances have changed, you may know someone who is looking for a place. Maybe it’s a friend who has been in your place, and commented that they like your place. Bringing a lease application with you from a viable candidate who wants to take over the place you are leaving could be a BIG step towards getting released from your lease early. The key is to make the situation as painless as possible for everyone!
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help!
In the end, some of us are born negotiators, and some of us are, well… hopeless as negotiators. Some of us have a hard time asking for what we need or making the case for our position.
The fact of the matter is, it can be expensive to break a lease, and the more money the lease involves, and the earlier in the term of the lease you want to break it, the more it is likely to cost you to get out early.
Whatever the issue is that makes you want to terminate a lease early, a real estate attorney doesn’t just argue cases in court. A good attorney can negotiate for you, and help you navigate your way to limiting your total liability.
What you really want is to carefully navigate the situation and not be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Breaking a lease can run into the thousands of dollars in liability judgments. That doesn’t even include attorney’s fees representing you in court. If you aren’t very sure of what you are doing or aren’t sure you will get the kind of deal you want from your landlord, a little spent on attorney’s fees on the front-end can save you a lot in the end.
It is never a bad idea to think about getting some solid legal advice, and maybe even some representation, long before the case winds up in court. Ideally, you should have all the facts in hand before you even bring the matter up to your landlord. Click here to learn everything you need to know about Leasing Residential Property in Colorado.
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