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Learn when and how renters in Alabama may lawfully break a lease, as well as how to minimize their obligation for rent until the conclusion of the lease period.

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 Alabama renters’ rights to end a contract without additional obligation for rent.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in Alabama 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 amend other provisions of a standard lease until the contract 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 breach another key requirement, such as holding huge and raucous parties on a regular basis. Landlords in Alabama must follow particular processes to discontinue the tenancy in these instances. For example, before initiating an eviction action, your landlord must give you seven days’ notice to pay the rent or leave. (Alabama Code 35-9A-421 (2022)) If you used or possessed illicit narcotics in the rental area, your landlord may issue you an unconditional quit notice with seven days to vacate. (Alabama Code 35-9A-421 (2022))

Tenants are legally obligated to pay rent for the whole lease period, which is normally one year, whether or not they continue to reside in the rented unit—with the following exceptions.

When Is It Legal to Break a Lease in Alabama?

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.

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

Your landlord must give you two days’ notice to access rental property under Alabama law. (Alabama Code 35-9A-303(2022)) If your landlord frequently breaches your private rights, such as by removing windows or doors, disconnecting utilities, or changing the locks, a court may deem you “constructively evicted.” When renters are constructively evicted, most courts enable them to dissolve their contract without additional rent obligation.

In Alabama, when breaking a lease is NOT justified

Contrary to common belief, Alabama renters cannot withhold rent or employ “repair and deduct” when landlords neglect to perform essential repairs to maintain the property fit and livable. (Alabama Code 35-9A-164 (2022)) Tenants should put their demands in writing and give the notification to the landlord, allowing the landlord 14 days (or fewer if it’s an emergency) to complete the repair. If the landlord fails to perform the repairs, renters may quit without being liable for future rent. Alternatively, renters may stay in the rental and sue the landlord for damages equal to the difference between the advertised rent and the unit’s worth in light of its deplorable condition. Judges have the authority to order landlords to make repairs.

Tenants in Alabama who are evicted for failing to pay rent may use the landlord’s failure to perform necessary repairs as a counterclaim. However, this does not imply that renters may refuse to pay their rent. When renters correctly file a counterclaim in an eviction action, they must pay all rent owed to the court before the counterclaim can be heard. If the court rules that the counterclaim is frivolous, the landlord may be entitled to recover the tenant’s lawyers’ costs. (Alabama Code 35-9A-405 (2022))

In Alabama, it is the landlord’s responsibility to find a new tenant.

Even if you don’t have a legal reason to break your lease, you may still be responsible for paying all of the rent due for the remainder of the lease period. This is because, under Alabama law, your landlord is required to make reasonable attempts to re-let your unit, regardless of the reason for your departure, rather than charging you the whole remaining rent due under the lease. You only have to pay the rent that the landlord loses because you moved out early. This is because landlords in Alabama are required to reduce their damages (take reasonable steps to keep their losses to a minimum). (Alabama Code 35-9A-105 and 35-9A-423 (2022).)

So, if you violate your contract and leave without legal explanation, your landlord can’t generally simply sit back and wait until the lease expires, then sue you for the complete amount of missed rent. Your landlord must make reasonable efforts to rerent the property and deduct the let collected from new renters from the amount you owe. The landlord is under no obligation to reduce the minimal conditions for a replacement tenant, such as accepting someone with a poor credit score. Furthermore, the landlord is not compelled to rent the unit for less than fair market value or to prioritize renting your property above other companies. Finally, the landlord may include appropriate charges in your payment, such as the cost of promoting the property.

If your landlord swiftly rerents the property (more probable in college cities and comparable markets), you’ll only be liable for the (hopefully short) period while the unit was empty.

The bad news is that if the landlord attempts to rerent your apartment and is unable to locate an appropriate tenant, you will be obligated to pay let for the balance of your lease term. If you leave many months before your lease expires, this might be a significant sum of money. Your landlord will almost certainly utilize your security deposit to pay the amount you owe initially. However, if your deposit is insufficient, your landlord may sue you for the balance due.

How to Reduce Your Financial Liability When Breaking a Lease

There are greater choices than just moving out and hope your landlord finds a new renter soon if you wish to leave early and don’t have legal grounds. 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 assist the issue by giving your landlord as much notice as possible and sending 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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