A lease is a legally binding agreement that, in most cases, can’t be broken until the end of the lease term. Leaving before the expiry of a fixed-term lease without paying for the remainder of the rent due is what’s referred to as breaking a lease.
In North Carolina, there are penalties if you break a landlord-tenant lease agreement. The penalties depend on whether your reason for breaking the rental agreement is justified.
If you’re a tenant who wants to know more about breaking a lease in North Carolina, here’s what you need to know.
Tenant Rights & Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in North Carolina
In a typical rental agreement, you and your landlord are obligated for a set period of time, usually one year. During this period, both parties aren’t allowed to alter any parts of the lease. For example, it’s illegal for your landlord to raise the rent unless the lease agreement expressly allows it.
The landlord also cannot force you to vacate before the lease term ends, unless you’re in violation of the rental agreement. Some instances that are considered violations include:
- Failure to pay rent according to the agreement
- Conducting illegal activities in the rental unit
- Disturbing your neighbors on a regular basis, like throwing large and noisy parties
In these cases, the landlord is required to follow specific procedures to end the tenancy. For example, if the tenant fails to pay the rent due, the landlord must give them a 10-day notice to pay or leave.
If the tenant still hasn’t paid the rent or vacated the properties, the landlord may file an eviction lawsuit. The landlord may also serve an unconditional quit notice requiring the tenant to move out immediately.
Usually, tenants are legally bound to pay rent for the full lease term. This means that if you break a one-year lease term mid-way, you’ll still be required to pay rent for the remaining period.
When Breaking a Lease in North Carolina is Legally Justified
Under these exceptions, you may be able to move out without facing any legal repercussions.
1. Failure by the Landlord to Maintain Habitable Premises
Maintaining the rental property is a landlord’s primary responsibility. Some common obligations include:
- Following health and safety codes
- Performing repairs
- Keeping the common area in good condition
- Providing proper trash receptacles
- Making sure there’s running water on the property at all times
You may file a complaint with the landlord or the local health or safety department if you believe the place you’re renting violates health and safety standards. Typically, you should give the landlord a written notice specifying your intentions to break the lease unless the issue is fixed.
2. Illegal Landlord Entry
In North Carolina, your landlord is required to give you notice before entering your rental unit. The notice should be given at least 24 hours before the visit. If your landlord fails to do this, you have the right to break the lease, especially if there have been continued attempts by the landlord to enter your unit illegally.
3. Active Military Duty
Active duty military members are offered protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act or SCRA. The Act protects service members from things like lease violations by the landlord when the former receives a change of station orders.
If you’ve received an order that requires you to relocate, you may serve the landlord a 30-day written notice beforehand. The order should be for a period not less than 90 days. You should also provide proof of the order, such as the copy of the military deployment or charge of station orders.
4. You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence, Stalking or Sexual Assault
You may also end your tenancy if you’ve been a victim of domestic violence. The act must have occurred within three to six months prior to your decision to break the lease.
In this case, you must serve the landlord a 30-day notice to break the lease. In North Carolina, you will only be responsible for paying rent up until then.
The landlord may request proof of domestic violence. If requested, provide a police report which documents the incident, or a copy of an order of protection.
5. Illegal Apartment
You can also break a rental agreement in North Carolina if the rental property turns out to be illegal. You may be entitled to a portion of the rent paid, or the landlord may be compelled to help you find another rental unit.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Find a New Tenant in North Carolina
Even if you don’t have a legal justification to break your lease, you may still choose not to pay the rent due for the remaining lease term. This is because your landlord is obligated to find a replacement tenant, regardless of the reason for your leaving.
In other words, you may end up paying a fraction of the due rent remaining under the lease term. You might incur additional charges, such as the costs of advertising the property. You may also have to reimburse the landlord for costs incurred during the screening of prospective tenants.
If the landlord is unable to find a new tenant, you’ll be liable for the rent due for the remainder of your lease term.
What to Do to Minimize Your Financial Burden
If you want to leave early, there are several things you can do to minimize your financial responsibility. One way is to give the landlord as much notice as possible. This will give him or her ample time to find a qualified tenant.
You may also offer your landlord a replacement tenant. Your landlord reserves the right to accept or reject the tenant, however.
Breaking a lease agreement may be inevitable. In that case, it’s important to understand the options available to you to protect your rights and financial interests. If you require further assistance, it’s recommended that you use the services of a qualified attorney.