Usually, most tenants who sign a rental lease in Arizona intend to stay for the entire lease period. But despite the good intentions, life happens, and it can force a tenant to break their lease. Some of the reasons for breaking a lease in Arizona include:
Job transfer or job loss
Upsizing or downsizing
Landlord repeatedly violates the tenant's privacy
Clearly, the reasons can be many and varied. Regardless of the reason, however, breaking a lease is the biggest possible violation of a lease agreement. After all, a lease is a contractually binding agreement between the landlord and tenant.
Whether or not to penalize your tenant depends on their reason for breaking the lease. If legally justified, then you cannot penalize them for doing so under Arizona landlord-tenant law. But if their reason is legally unjustified, then you can hold them liable for lost income under the lease.
Insufficient Justification for Breaking a Lease in Arizona
The following reasons generally don’t offer legal protection to a tenant breaking their lease in Arizona. They include:
Moving closer to family
Moving in with a partner
Divorce or separation
Upgrading or downsizing
Relocating for a new job or school
Moving to a new house they bought
In such cases, the landlord may be able to hold a tenant liable for lost income under the lease and they will still be required to pay rent for the remaining lease term.
Sufficient Justification for Breaking a Lease in Arizona
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can break their lease legally and without penalty. The conditions are as follows:
1. There Is an Early Termination Clause
Some landlords choose to include an early termination clause in modern lease agreements. The purpose of the clause is to provide the tenant an option to legally break their lease early and without penalty. This does not, of course, apply to security deposit laws. The tenant must, however, meet certain requirements.
One of the requirements is paying a fee. Broadly speaking, the fee is typically equivalent to the rent of two months. Another requirement is proper written notice.
This is important, as you don’t want to get stuck with a vacant property for long after the tenant has moved out. You want to begin marketing in advance of their departure. A written notice of 30 days to break the lease is standard.
2. The Tenant Is Starting Active Military Duty
Active servicemembers who are being deployed or receive permanent change of station orders are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The protection starts from the day they enter duty and ends ninety days after being discharged.
In Arizona, the term “servicemember” is defined as those belonging to:
Activated National Guard
Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Before a tenant can legally break their lease, they must, first of all, meet certain requirements. One, they must show their landlord proof that they intend to remain in active duty for a minimum of 90 days.
Two, they must prove that they signed the lease before they entered active duty. And three, they must submit the proper notice to their landlord alongside copies of their deployment letters.
3. The Property Isn’t Habitable
As a landlord, you have an obligation to provide your Arizona tenant with a habitable rental property. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1324).
Every state has specific housing codes that every rental unit must meet. The following are some characteristics of a habitable unit:
Reasonable protection against criminal intrusion
Protection from environmental hazards such as mold, asbestos, and lead
Sturdy floors and walls that aren’t in danger of imminent collapse
Reliable heat and sufficient hot water
A roof that keeps out rain and snow
Properly maintained common areas, such as stairways and hallways
Properly maintained plumbing, electrical, heating, and ventilating and HVAC systems
If you fail in the aforementioned responsibilities, your tenant may be seen as “constructively” evicted and they will have no rent obligations.
Aside from being able to terminate the lease without liability for future rent, a tenant may also have the option of:
Suing the landlord for providing an unlivable rental space
Paying for the repairs themselves and then deducting the costs from their rent
Withholding all future rent payments until you have fixed the habitability issue
4. Violation of the Tenant’s Privacy
Under Arizona law, landlords have a right to enter their tenants’ rented premises under certain conditions. However, you must do so only after you have notified your tenant of your intention.
The following are common reasons why a landlord may need to enter their tenants’ premises:
To show the rental unit to a prospective tenant or buyer
Inspect the property for maintenance and safety issues
Under the orders of a court
In cases of emergencies
If given permission by the tenant
If the landlord has sufficient reasons to believe the tenant has abandoned their rented premises
Except in cases of emergencies, landlords must notify their tenants prior to entering their premises. Specifically, you must provide your tenant with a notice of at least 2 days prior to the entry. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1343(D)).
Tenant privacy laws, however, don’t specify the exact hours the landlord must access a rented property. Nonetheless, the entry times must be reasonable.
If a landlord fails to provide their tenant with advance notice multiple times, the tenant may have two options to consider. One of these options is to sue the landlord for invasion of privacy or illegal trespassing. And secondly, to break the lease and move out without further obligations to the lease agreement, such as paying rent.
5. The Tenant Is a Domestic Violence Victim
Domestic violence victims have special rental provisions in Arizona. As per (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1318(A)), they can terminate their lease without penalty so long as they follow proper procedure.
As a landlord, you have a right to require proof of their domestic violence status.
A Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant
Landlords have a responsibility to “mitigate damages” after a tenant breaks a lease in Arizona. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1370). So, regardless of the reason for breaking the lease, a tenant may still be off the hook for all the rent due under the lease.
Bottom Line: Breaking a Lease Early in Arizona
Breaking a lease in Arizona involves many legal nuances. As a landlord, you may come across any number of reasons for why this may occur.
However, by knowing your rights and the rights of your tenants, you can make this process as smooth as possible in case your tenant breaks their lease early.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. For further help, consider hiring a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company directly, like Foothills Properties.