In the U.S., a landlord-tenant lease is a legally binding contract. If you’ve signed a lease for a specified amount of time, and you want to get out of it early, there are legal repercussions that you must be prepared to deal with.
If you’re moving to Colorado, here are some things you need to know before affixing your signature to a lease.
Legal Repercussions of Breaking a Lease in Colorado
In Colorado, you’re considered to have breached the landlord-tenant rental agreement if you leave before the term of the lease is up.
Additionally, you may be considered to have broken the lease agreement if you fail to follow other major requirements. For example, a landlord can hand you an unconditional quit notice if you continually break clauses in the lease agreement, as per the Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-40-104(1)(e.5) statute.
The landlord may also serve you a 3-day notice requiring you to pay the rent or else face an eviction lawsuit. This is as per the Colorado Rev. Stat. § 13-40-104(1)(d) statute.
If you have plans to leave early, you’re required to give your landlord an advance notice stating your intentions. This helps the landlord find another renter as quickly as possible, thereby mitigating damages.
Remember that you’ll be responsible for the expenses until a replacement is found. Those expenses include advertising and tenant screening costs.
You should also provide as much assistance as possible to the landlord to avoid jeopardizing your credit rating. It may also get you a good recommendation, which you’ll need when you move to a new rental property.
Tenant Rights and Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in Colorado
Under a typical lease, you and your landlord are obligated for a set period of time. Unless the lease itself provides room for revisions, the landlord can’t raise the rent or change other lease terms. The landlord also can’t force you to move out, unless you have violated one or more of the lease terms you agreed on.
As a tenant in Colorado, you’re protected against unfair practices within the landlord-tenant relationship. Therefore, it’s important to know that your landlord cannot evict you simply because you exercised your tenant rights.
At a glance, here’s a summary of Colorado state laws:
- It’s illegal for a landlord to discriminate against you on the grounds of your ancestry, national origin, religion, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, sex, color, creed, race or disability.
- The landlord must comply with the habitability law.
- You reserve the right to proper notice.
- The landlord may not retaliate against you for exercising your rights as a tenant.
- The landlord must follow the right procedure during an eviction.
When Breaking a Lease is Justified in Colorado
You may be able to legally move out before the lease term ends under the following conditions.
The Landlord Violates Your Right to Privacy or Harasses You
Violation to your right to privacy qualifies as “constructive eviction.” If your landlord repeatedly violates it, you can legally break a lease or rental agreement. Examples include changing the locks, removing doors, and repeatedly entering the home without notice.
Victim of Domestic Violence
Under state law (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-402), you can terminate a lease early if you are a victim of domestic violence. This is as long as the specified conditions are met. For example, having a police report as evidence.
The Landlord Breaches the Contract
As a tenant, you may be able to get out of a lease agreement if your landlord violates the terms, like increasing the rent before the term is up.
Living Conditions are Unsafe
You can break the lease agreement early if the rental unit is unsafe or violates Colorado Health or Safety Codes. A landlord, by supplying unlivable housing, has for all practical purposes “evicted” you. As such, you have no further responsibility to continue paying rent.
A court would probably conclude that you have been “constructively evicted.” Before moving out, there are specific procedures you must follow. These procedures are set out under Colorado law Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-507.
You Are Starting Active Military Duty
All military members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. If you enter active military service after signing a lease, you have a right to break the lease under federal law.
In order to legally break the lease in this regard, you must be part of the “Uniformed services.”
Those deemed to be in uniformed services include:
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
- Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Armed Forces, and;
What to do when you don’t have Legal Justification 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 to do so. So what should you do then?
Negotiate with your landlord
At times, it may be possible that your landlord is as willing as you to terminate the lease. For example, your landlord might just let you out with a 30-day notice if he wants to adjust the rent upwards.
Analyze your lease agreement
You may find that you have a valid reason to break the lease after all. For example, there’s something in the lease your landlord promised to provide, but hasn’t. It’s also possible that your lease states that your apartment include a working dryer and washer, but it doesn’t. In this case, you may be able to break the lease without incurring any repercussions.
Get a Replacement
Finding and bringing a qualified candidate to replace you as a tenant is another option. This would also help you mitigate costs.
Contact a tenant’s rights organization in your area
Once you’ve explained the details specific to your situation, tenant rights organizations can provide you with relevant information about your rights and liabilities.
A Note about Subleasing
There are a few things to keep in mind when you sublease to avoid breaking a rental agreement. It’s important that you get approval from your landlord before subleasing, as some lease terms may be against it.
An assignment of lease is also another option better than subleasing. Under an assignment of lease, all rights and responsibilities are transferred to the new tenant.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in Colorado
In Colorado, landlords must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their units when a tenant breaks a lease early. This keeps losses to a minimum. However, in case you’re moving out without any legal justification, try to work something out with your landlord.
You should give a notice of your intentions to your landlord as early as possible. In the notice, give sincere reasons why you need to move out early. If the landlord declines your request, you will be liable to pay rent until the landlord finds a replacement.
Your landlord will then use your security deposit to cover the amount owed. Should your deposit be insufficient, your landlord may be left with no other choice than to file a lawsuit in a small claims court. In Colorado, the limit for that court is $7,500.
Breaking a landlord-tenant lease in Colorado has legal consequences. It’s important that you understand the terms of your lease or rental agreement before moving out. Whether you are justified in breaking the lease or not, make sure you communicate with your landlord regarding your desire to break the lease as soon as possible.