As a landlord in Virginia, there are a lot of rules and regulations that you need to abide by under the state’s landlord-tenant laws. An example of that is the rights and responsibilities of both parties when it comes to breaking a lease. 

A lease is a contractually binding agreement that lasts for a specific period of time. During this time, both parties must honor the terms of the agreement. For example, your tenant must continue paying rent for the entire duration whether or not they live there. 

However, life happens, and your tenant might want to break their lease early. If that happens, what are you supposed to do as a landlord? The course of action will depend on their reason for breaking the lease. Breaking a lease is not the same as evicting a tenant in Virgnia.

In today’s article, we’ll walk you through the justified and unjustified reasons for early lease termination. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to know what legal options you can take if your tenant needs to break their lease early. 

Rental Agreement in Virginia 

As a landlord, it’s important that you have a written lease agreement. A good lease agreement is one that is properly worded and protects you and your investment. 

A couple and their property manager sitting on a couch looking at a document

Among other terms, you should ensure that the lease spells out the penalties for unjustifiably breaking the lease. Often, the fine is equivalent to one or two months’ rent. Other times, you may be able to hold the tenant liable for all the rent due under the lease. 

Another important term to spell out in the lease agreement is the tenant’s obligation to provide notice when ending their periodic lease. In the state of Virginia, VA Code § 55-222 requires tenants to provide the following lease terms. 

  • 120 days’ notice to terminate a lease without an end date. 
  • 30 days’ notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 

Your lease should also mention whether you have a responsibility to re-rent the unit. Virginia, unlike some other states, requires landlords to make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit after a tenant leaves. 

If you’re lucky in renting out the property, the previous tenant would only be liable for paying you for the time the unit was vacant. This is referred to as a landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages.” 

Last but not least, you’ll also want to include your tenant’s right to sublet in Virginia. According to state law, tenants have a right to do so if the lease doesn’t expressly prohibit it. 

Person dangling a key over someone else who is signing a document

As such, it’s in your best interest to state your rules in the lease regarding subletting to avoid potential issues. The last thing you want is to give your tenant the leeway to sublet the property to anyone they want.  

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia 

Generally speaking, the following reasons don’t offer a tenant enough justification to break their lease. If a tenant breaks their lease for one of these reasons, they are exposed to certain financial and/or legal ramifications. 

  • Breaking the lease to move in with a partner or spouse. 
  • Breaking the lease to work elsewhere. 
  • Terminating the lease after buying a house. 
  • Terminating the lease to move closer to family and friends. 
  • Breaking the lease after a separation or a divorce. 

The best way to break a lease early is to seek mutual termination with the landlord. Otherwise, without any legal protection against penalties, there could be tangible consequences for the tenant. 

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease in Virginia 

All reasons for breaking a lease aren’t created equal. Some could allow a tenant to break their lease without penalty. The following are the legally justified reasons for breaking a lease in Virginia. 

1. Active Military Duty

A tenant who is an active service member has a legal right to break their lease if they are relocated. This legal right is protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). 

Relaxed woman holding a cup of tea, sitting on the floor surrounded by moving boxes

The SCRA requires that a tenant do the following things before breaking a lease. 

  • Not to have signed the lease after entering active duty. 
  • Prove that they intend to stay on active duty for at least the next 90 days. 
  • Serve the landlord with written notice of their intentions to move out. They must also attach a letter from their commanding officer stating their deployment or change of station. 

In the state of Virginia, a servicemember is anyone who belongs to the following military cadres. 

  • Armed forces.
  • Activated National Guard.
  • Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service.

2. Domestic Violence

In Virginia, certain special state laws apply to domestic violence victims. These special state laws apply to victims of criminal sexual assault, sexual abuse, and family abuse. 

To terminate the lease early, the domestic violence victim must provide the landlord with a 30 days notice. They must also provide you with a copy of the conviction order or order of protection. 

3. An Uninhabitable Unit

As a landlord, it’s important that you provide your tenant with a habitable property. Examples of minimum standards that make a property habitable include the following. 

  • Compliance with applicable health, safety, and building codes. 
  • Safe and properly working electrical, sanitary, plumbing, and HVAC systems. 
  • No mold. 
  • Running hot and cold water. 
  • An appropriate number of trash receptacles. 
  • Working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors

4. Privacy Violation 

As a savvy landlord, you know that respecting the peace and quiet of your tenant is extremely important. According to Virginia law, you must provide your tenant with 24 hours of notice prior to entering their rented premises. 

Two people entering their new rental and taking the keys from their landlord who is standing in the doorway

In addition, you must also avoid harassing your tenant in any other way. Examples of this include turning off their utilities, locking them out, or removing their personal belongings. Such actions could land you in legal trouble. 

Mandatory Disclosures 

Federal and state laws require that landlords disclose certain information to their tenants. In the state of Virginia, the following are some of the disclosures you must make. 

  • Presence of defective drywall.
  • Previous use of the unit to manufacture methamphetamines.
  • Location near a military facility.
  • Use of lead-based paint.

Bottom Line

Still have a question regarding breaking a lease in Virginia? If you do, Keyrenter Chester can help! We provide full-service property management to property owners in Chester, VA, and the surrounding areas. Get in touch to learn more!

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.