What are the consequences of breaking my lease?
In rare situations, you might have legal justification for terminating a lease early.
In most cases you won’t and you will be liable for:
- rent until a replacement tenant is in place and paying rent (depending on market conditions and time of year, this could be a short time or many months)
- landlord’s out of pocket expenses to re-rent, such as advertising costs
- possibly lease break or tenant change fees that are specifically stated in the lease. Sometimes these are exorbitant and a judge might refuse to enforce them on grounds they are unconscionable, but you cannot count on that.
- If you fail to pay these amounts, you (and your co-signor) will likely be pursued by a collections agency or sued in court.
- Your credit report (and your co-signor’s) will suffer
- If your roommates get stuck paying your share to the landlord, they have a right to recover from you.
What is the best way to go about breaking my lease?
- Consult with your campus lawyers first.
- Read your lease to determine whether it contains any sort of lease break fees.
- Negotiate with your roommates and landlord: Do they know of a potential replacement tenant? Will the landlord let you off the lease in exchange for part or all of your security deposit? Any settlement must be in writing signed by you and the landlord. If the settlement affects roommates with whom you have joint liability, they must sign the settlement, too.
- Give written notice of intent to vacate to landlord and roommates. The law requires that landlords and roommates “mitigate their losses” by getting a replacement as soon as possible. Your written notice triggers their duty to mitigate and will be important later if you must defend against rent charges on the grounds of their failure to mitigate.
- Fully vacate: don’t leave any possessions and don’t hold on to keys. If you are not completely out, landlords and roommates will have trouble re-renting, and may not even try.
- Clean thoroughly and take lots of pictures at the time you move out so you can defend against charges for damages caused after you left.
- Look for your own replacement—put the word out with everyone you know, advertise in multiple places (including the online rental listings with Off Campus Life: ocssral.colostate.edu), and see if your landlord has a list of prospects. Keep contact information for all prospects you send to the landlord. This will help if you must show later that the landlord failed to mitigate.
- Enter into an assignment of lease rather than sublease with the replacement tenant. Under a sublease you remain liable for all rent and all damages that the subtenant fails to pay. Under an assignment, you transfer all rights and obligations to the new tenant and your liability ends. In most cases, you must have your landlord’s consent to assign.
The costs of a lease break sound too great—how can I fix the situation and finish out the lease term?
Take advantage of free mediation provided by CSU: http://www.conflictresolution.colostate.edu The City of Fort Collins also provides free mediation: http://www.fcgov.com/neighborhoodservices/mediation.php
There are a lot of reasons to want to get out of a lease but only a few that might legally excuse you from the lease without lease break consequences. Keep in mind that your landlord may not agree you have legal justification for terminating a lease, and you may have to defend against collection actions. Always consult your campus lawyers before terminating a lease early. Possible legal justifications for terminating a lease early:
- Breach of Colorado’s Warranty of Habitability
- Landlords in Colorado have to provide “habitable” properties, including weather protecting roofs and exterior walls, unbroken windows and doors, good working plumbing and gas facilities, running and hot water, functioning heating facilities, electrical lighting up to code at time of installation and in good working order, common areas kept clean and free of accumulated garbage, extermination of rodents or vermin, enough outside trash receptacles, floors, stairs and railings in good repair, locks on all exterior doors, locks or security systems on windows designed to be opened, and compliance with all city codes.
- Tenants must give written notice to the landlord within 30 days of when an uninhabitable condition arises. If the landlord doesn’t fix the condition within 5 business days, the tenant may terminate the lease by giving up possession of the property (moving out, turning in keys and giving written notice).
- Beware, not all troublesome conditions will meet the test for “uninhabitable condition”. Check with Student Legal Services before you rely on a condition to move out.
- Landlord intentionally violated Fort Collins’ occupancy limit:
- If your landlord intentionally rented to more than three unrelated people in violation of Fort Collins’ occupancy limit, the lease may be illegal and unenforceable. As long as the landlord intended the over-occupancy, it doesn’t matter how many people were actually named on the lease. Courts do not like to be used to enforce illegal arrangements. However, Landlords will rarely admit to their part in the over-occupancy, so you should get help from your campus lawyers in evaluating your evidence and the likely consequences before you rely on this ground for moving out early. Even if a court eventually finds the lease to be illegal and unenforceable, you may first have to deal with a collections company trying to collect rent from you and a negative report made against your credit report.
- Tenant enters military or gets deployed
- Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, people who enter the military during their tenancy or who were already in the military and receive orders for a permanent change of station or orders to deploy for a period of not less than 90 days may terminate a lease early by giving written notice of termination and a copy of the service member’s military orders to the landlord. For leases that require a monthly payment of rent, this termination will be effective 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due after the date the notice is delivered to the landlord. Usually, this means you will pay one more month’s rent after giving written notice.
- Unlawful duplex or multi-plex
- If your Landlord created a duplex or multi-plex without proper permits or in an area not zoned for multi-family use, your unit is unlawful in the eyes of the City and you may be justified in terminating your lease early. Keep in mind that if you call Zoning to investigate and your unit is unlawful, Zoning may not allow you to stay in the property. Fort Collins Zoning can be reached at 970-416-2745, however you should consult your campus lawyers before calling Zoning.
- Serious violation of the Fort Collins Rental Housing Minimum Provisions
- If your rental unit violates these minimum provisions to such a degree that the City deems the premises dangerous or unfit for occupancy and the landlord cannot or will not rectify the problem quickly, you may be justified in terminating your lease early. Most violations of the Rental Housing Provisions will not rise to this level. Tenants may request inspection by the City when a violation is suspected. Call Neighborhood and Building Services at 970-221-6760.
Written Notice of Intent to Vacate
THIS FORM IS PROVIDED AS INFORMATION ONLY, NOT AS LEGAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD CONSULT AN ATTORNEY FOR ADVICE ON YOUR PARTICULAR SITUATION.
[Mail with added postal service of “delivery confirmation”. Keep a copy of your letter.]
Re: [address of rented premises]
Dear [Landlord (and Roommates, if applicable)—insert all names]:
The purpose of this letter is to notify you that I will be vacating the premises no later than ___________ p.m. on _______________________. I trust you are aware that Colorado law imposes a duty upon landlords [and roommates] to “mitigate their losses” when a tenant terminates a lease early. That duty requires landlords [and roommates] to do everything reasonable to lessen the landlord’s [and roommates’] losses by finding and renting to a replacement tenant.
This letter shall also serve as my relinquishment of all rights under the lease for any further possession past the date of vacating stated above. This does not relieve you of your duty to handle my security deposit in the normal manner required by Colorado law. Based on this relinquishment, you are free to enter into a new lease with other tenant(s) without any requirement for me to sign a transfer of lease.
I will do everything possible on my part to help in the mitigation process by advertising and sending prospective tenants to you.
I trust that with both [all] of us working to the same end, you will have a paying tenant in place upon my move-out.
Assignment of Lease
THIS FORM IS PROVIDED AS INFORMATION ONLY, NOT AS LEGAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD CONSULT AN ATTORNEY FOR ADVICE ON YOUR PARTICULAR SITUATION.
ASSIGNMENT OF LEASE
Tenant, ______________, hereby assigns to New Tenant, ______________, with Landlord’s written approval, all terms, conditions, and obligations of the lease dated _______ between Tenant and Landlord, concerning the property located at ___________________________, which lease terminates on _______. Tenant shall deliver the premises to the New Tenant by _______ p.m. on ______________.
Landlord shall handle Tenant’s security deposit in the manner provided for in the lease and Colorado statute, and the required time period shall begin running as of the date Tenant delivers possession to New Tenant. Landlord shall send security deposit correspondence and any refund to [name & forwarding address of Tenant].
Landlord and Tenant shall conduct a walk-through on _____________ at _______ (time) to document the condition of the premises for purposes of fair reconciliation of Tenant’s security deposit.
Tenant is released from any further obligations under the lease, effective on the date Tenant delivers possession to New Tenant. This does not prevent Landlord from collecting, out of security deposit or otherwise, for any damages caused, or unpaid obligations accrued, prior to the date Tenant delivers possession to New Tenant.
New Tenants shall arrange for all utilities to be placed in the name of New Tenants effective on the date Tenant delivers possession to New Tenant.
Other terms: [detail any other agreements, such as New Tenant paying security deposit to Landlord, New Tenant reimbursing Tenant for prorated rent if moving in mid-month, etc.]
Landlord, [Print Name] Date
Tenant, [Print Name] Date
New Tenant, [Print Name] Date
Fort Collins Rental Housing Minimum Provisions
Within the city limits of Fort Collins, rental properties must meet minimum requirements. These are enforced by Neighborhood and Building Services, 970-221-6760, and are summarized by the City in its Landlord-Tenant Handbook in the chapter on Rental Habitability Standards: http://www.fcgov.com/neighborhoodservices/pdf/lthandbook.pdf:
Minimum Habitability Requirements from Fort Collins’ Landlord-Tenant Handbook
1. Rental housing must be weather protected to provide shelter for
2. All dwelling units must have a kitchen and a bathroom, both with
sinks that supply hot and cold running water.
3. One bathroom must have a bathtub or shower, sink and toilet, and must
4. Basement apartments built after October 1945, and ALL housing built
after October 1958, requires minimum window area for light and
5. Stairs, hallways and exits which serve more than one unit must
always be lighted (natural or artificial).
6. Every rented apartment, lodging or room must have direct access
outside OR to a public corridor that leads directly to an exterior exit.
7. Exits must be maintained in a safe condition and in accordance with
the applicable code when the unit was legally authorized for
8. In case of fire, it’s crucial that all bedrooms below the fourth story have
an operable exterior emergency exit window or door.
9. Such emergency exits in bedrooms created after October 1958 must:
• Be able to be opened from the inside without special tools or knowledge.
• Have a clear opening no higher than 48” above the floor.
• Have a minimum clear opening area of 5 square feet.
10. All bedrooms below grade level must be provided with escape
windows that provide a clear opening of at least 5 square feet, and a
maximum clear opening height of 48 inches above the floor.
11. All doors and windows used for ventilation must have screens from
April 1st to November 1st to protect against insects (West Nile Virus),
provided at time of lease signing.
12. All windows and exterior doors must have security locks.
Windows must operate smoothly, and be capable of being held open
by the window hardware.
13. Smoke alarms must be installed in each story of the dwelling, in all
bedrooms, in halls and areas that are in the immediate vicinity of the
14. All habitable rooms, including bathrooms, must have permanent
heating facilities capable of maintaining an indoor temperature of at
least 68 degrees.
15. Portable kerosene, propane heaters or non-vented gas heaters are
dangerous and prohibited.
16. All gas-fired heating equipment must:
• Have an automatic safety fuel-shutoff.
• Have an accessible manual fuel-shutoff.
• Have a listed appliance fuel connector.
• Be connected to an improved chimney or vent.
• Have adequate combustion air.
• Not have the only access to the equipment through a bedroom or bathroom
unless the equipment is sealed-combustion or is in an enclosed room with direct
outside combustion air.
17. A forced-air heating system cannot be used to heat more than one
dwelling. Not having separate forced air heating systems or independent
control of your heat is a big red flag that your rental may not legal!
18. All dwelling units with gas-fired heating equipment and/or attached
garages must be provided with carbon monoxide detectors.
19. Stairs from basement apartments and stairs serving more than one unit
must be at least 30” wide with 75” of headroom, and must have
20. All electrical equipment and appliances must be maintained and
safe according to the following:
• All habitable rooms must have at least two electrical outlets.
• Outlets within reach of laundry appliances and piping must be electrically
grounded. Lights in bathrooms and laundry areas must have wall switches or
non-conductive pulls. Outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and exterior must
be protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s).
• Branch circuits, feeder panels, etc. must be protected by properly sized fuses or
• Extension cords wired directly to permanent wiring, inside walls, through floors,
under carpets, etc. are prohibited.
• Plumbing, fire sprinklers, structural members, foundations, floors, walls, roofs,
masonry fireplaces and chimneys must be maintained in safe condition.