Under some conditions, breaking a lease and departing early is permitted in Colorado.

Breaking the lease is leaving before the end of a fixed-term lease without paying the remaining rent owed under the lease. Here’s a quick rundown of Colorado renters’ rights to terminate a contract and avoid future rent responsibility.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in Colorado When Signing a Lease

A lease binds you and your landlord for a certain length of time, generally a year. A landlord cannot raise the rent or alter the lease until the lease expires (unless the lease itself provides for a change, such as a rent increase mid-lease). A landlord cannot compel you to leave before the lease expires unless you fail to pay the rent or otherwise breach a serious lease provision, such as holding huge and loud parties on a regular basis. Landlords in Colorado must follow particular processes to discontinue the tenancy in these instances. For example, before initiating an eviction action, your landlord must give you 10 days’ notice to pay the rent or leave. (Colorado Revised Statutes 13-40-104(1)(d) (2022).) If you have persistently breached any lease agreement, your landlord may issue you an unconditional quit notice (a notice without any opportunity to cure the violation) requiring you to vacate within 10 days. (Colorado Revised Statutes 13-40-104(1)(e.5) (2022).)

Tenants are legally required to pay rent for the whole lease period, whether or not they dwell in the rented unit—with the exceptions listed below.

When Is It Legal to Break a Lease in Colorado?

There are few key exceptions to the general rule that a tenant who breaches a lease must pay the whole lease term. In the following circumstances, you may be allowed to lawfully leave before the lease term expires.
You have begun active military service.

Under federal law, if you join active military duty after signing a lease, you have the right to break the contract. (The War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C.A. 501 and subsequent.) You must be a member of the “uniformed services,” which include the armed forces, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) commissioned corps, the Public Health Service’s commissioned corps, and the activated National Guard. You must notify your landlord in writing of your intention to end your lease for military reasons. Once the notice is sent or delivered, your tenancy will end 30 days after the next due date for rent, even if that date is many months before your lease ends.

You Are a Domestic Violence Victim

Tenants who are victims of domestic abuse in Colorado have the ability to terminate their lease early provided certain requirements are satisfied (such as the tenant providing a copy of a police report). (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-402 (2022).)

The rental unit is dangerous or violates Colorado health and safety standards.

A court may rule that you have been “constructively evicted” if your landlord fails to provide livable accommodation in accordance with local and state housing rules. This implies that the landlord has effectively “evicted” you by providing unlivable housing, and you are no longer obligated to pay the rent.

According to Colorado’s warranty of habitability statute, the landlord promises that the rental is suitable for human habitation in every rental agreement, even if the warranty is not specified in the lease. The law defines what constitutes a property unsuitable for habitation and states that the landlord’s assurance of habitability may be infringed if there is a situation that significantly interferes with the tenant’s life, health, or safety and the landlord is aware of it but hasn’t repaired it. When the landlord breaches the assurance of habitability and the tenant provides adequate notice of the matter, the tenant has the right to terminate the lease without penalty. (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-503, 38-12-507 (2022).)

Your landlord is harassing you or infringing on your privacy rights.

In Colorado, there is no state legislation that stipulates how much notice a landlord must provide a tenant before accessing a rental property. (With the exception of inspecting for or treating bed bugs, the landlord must provide 48 hours’ notice.) If your landlord repeatedly violates your privacy rights, or does things like removing windows or doors, disconnecting utilities, or changing the locks, a court may consider you to be “constructively evicted,” as described above; this would usually justify breaking the lease without further rent obligation.

Your landlord fails to repair a hazardous gas condition.

If you become aware of any dangerous condition in a gas appliance, pipe, or other gas equipment, you must immediately notify your landlord or the landlord’s representative in writing of the hazard. (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-104(2) (2022).) Your landlord then has 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays) to get the problem professionally fixed. If the landlord does not make the repairs within 72 hours and your building remains unsafe, you may quit and your lease will become null and invalid (you are released from all responsibility under lease). You may also request that your security deposit be returned (minus any allowable deductions). (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-104(3)-(4) (2022).)

Colorado Landlord’s Obligation to Find a New Tenant

When a tenant violates a contract, landlords in most jurisdictions (for example, Arizona) must make a reasonable attempt to rerent their units rather than charging the renter the whole remaining let owed under the lease. An historic law in Colorado imposes this obligation on commercial landlords (Schneiker v. Gordon, 732 P.2d 603 (Colo. 1987)), but does not expressly extend the duty to landlords renting residential property. However, the case strongly suggested that such a duty would be fair and appropriate, and over the years, courts in many counties and cities have apparently taken the hint and required landlords to “mitigate damages” by attempting to rent their property as quickly as possible, thereby limiting their losses. Unless you are informed otherwise by a local lawyer, you should presume that your landlord is subject to the obligation to mitigate.

If you violate your lease and leave without a legal reason (as indicated above), attempt to negotiate with your landlord. Don’t simply leave and hope your landlord quickly finds a new renter and doesn’t charge you for the remaining time on your contract. Give your landlord as much notice as possible, and compose a heartfelt letter explaining why you must go early. To sign a new lease, you should ideally be able to give your landlord a suitable replacement renter with strong credit and references.

However, bear in mind that if the landlord does not agree to let you off the hook, you will be responsible for paying rent until the landlord rerents the unit using reasonable efforts. This might be a significant amount of money if you leave many months before your lease expires or if the market is hot (there are many competing units out there that are unrented). Your landlord will almost certainly utilize your security deposit to pay the amount you owe initially. If your deposit is insufficient, your landlord may sue you, most likely in a Colorado small claims court with a $7,500 cap. (If the disputed amount is less than $25,000, your landlord may sue you in the proper Colorado county court.)

How to Reduce Your Financial Liability When Breaking a Lease

If you want to leave early and don’t have a legal reason, there are better choices than just packing out and praying your landlord finds a new renter swiftly. There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of money you have to pay your landlord—and to assist assure a positive recommendation from the landlord when you’re searching for your next place to live.

You may greatly improve the situation by giving your landlord as much notice as possible and drafting a heartfelt letter explaining why you need to leave early. Ideally, you should be able to provide your landlord a suitable replacement renter, someone with strong credit and solid references, to sign a new lease.

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