You are here

Can I Break My Lease?

Is there a Massachusetts law that states I cannot break my lease? I have given my landlord 30 day’s notice to leave, but he says I cannot break my lease under MA Law. The lease that I signed states nothing about breaking or penalties. -- (Posted on the Forum Chat Room by James)
Landlord's duty to use Reasonable Efforts to find new Tenant in MA
This is not a criminal law matter, but a civil law matter, specifically a contract law issue. If you have a lease (say, for one year) rather than a tenancy at will (something either party can end with 30 day's notice) then you cannot simply "break the lease." A lease is a form of a contract, and when you sign it, you are bound by its terms, just as your landlord is. Among other things, your lease is a written record of your agreement to remain in the unit and pay rent until the date specified in the contract. If you fail to abide by those terms, you may still be responsible for rent until the end of the term.
However, Massachusetts law obligates your landlord to make reasonable efforts to rent the apartment to someone else and, thus, eliminate or reduce your liability for the rent owed for the remaining term of the lease.  There is a substantial body of case law in Massachusetts that prohibits a landlord from simply collecting rent from a tenant who has moved out (instead of making good faith efforts to find a new tenant).  See for example: Edmands v. Rust & Richardson Drug Co., 191 Mass. 123, 77 N.E. 713 (1906); Woodbury v. Sparrell Print, 198 Mass. 1, 84 N.E. 441-42 (1908); Loitherstein v. IBM, 11 Mass. App. Ct. 91, 413 N.E.2d 1146 (1980); Cantor v. Van Noorden Co., 4 Mass. App. Ct. 819, 349 N.E.2d 375 (1976) (rescript); but see Fifty Assocs. v. Berger Dry Goods Co., 275 Mass. 509, 176 N.E. 643, (1931); Bridges v. Palmer, Boston Housing Court 07326 (May 24, 1979); Grumman v. Barres, Boston Housing Court, 06334 (March 1, 1979); Gagne v. Kreinest, Hampden Housing Court, 92-SC1569 (December 6, 1991).
With that in mind, Attorney Lisa Sigman of Wakefield posted the following response on the Forum Chat Room. “If you find a suitable person to assume the lease, and the landlord refuses, you may not be liable for the entire term of the lease. Additionally, if you ‘break the lease’ and the landlord does not take reasonable steps to fill the vacancy, you may not be liable for the full term of the lease. You should also check the terms of the lease and see if you are allowed sublet the apartment - this could at least spare you the expense of continuing to pay the rent. Keep in mind, that if you are free to sublet, you are still the lessee and are responsible for the apartment, for the actions of the person(s) subletting the apartment and that the rent is paid.” One final note: Just because you think your landlord is not acting reasonably does not mean a court will agree with you. A landlord is not obligated to rent to the person you nominate to assume your lease. The landlord may have valid reasons for not renting to that person, such as a poor credit history or bad references from former landlords. In short, breaking a lease is risky business.
When can I break my Lease?
There are a few situations in which a tenant is allowed to terminate a lease, including: (1) Military Service. Under the War and National Defense Service member's Civil Relief Act (50 App. U.S.C.A. §§ 501) if you are a member of the "uniformed services,” (not just the military, but also corps of the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, or an active National Guard member), if you are required by that service to move, you can give your landlord written notice of your intent to terminate your tenancy. Once the notice is delivered to the landlord, the tenant's lease will end 30 days after the next rent payment day.
(2) Constructive Eviction. In cases where the landlord fails to make repairs and correct major problems. However, tenants must follow procedures outlined in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 111, § 127L and in chapter 239, §8A.
(3) Domestic Violence. Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 § 24, tenants who have met certain conditions and who are victims of (or reasonably fear) domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking can terminate their leas

Share this with your friends

Talk to a Landlord and Tenant Lawyer Today
Most offer FREE Consultations
Connect with The Forum
facebook google twitter linkedin