A lease or a rental agreement is a legally binding contractual agreement. It binds both landlord and tenant to the terms of the lease agreement for a certain period of time. These agreements may run month-to-month or for a longer period of time, such as 6 months or one year. They often include a security deposit as well, though security deposits have their own set of laws.
However, a landlord may run into a case where your tenant wants to break the lease agreement. There are a variety of different reasons they may wish to break a lease, such as moving closer to a new workplace, to move in with another person, or because of domestic violence.
Breaking a lease agreement typically results in a host of repercussions. As a landlord, you can withhold the tenant’s security deposit, sue them for damages, or even report them to tenant reporting bureaus. The loss of rent can be big, affecting things such as your mortgage.
That said, whether or not to punish a tenant depends on their reason to break a lease. If the reason is legally justified, then there isn’t much you can do. The rights and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant are variable.
Under landlord tenant laws, legal justifications for breaking a lease agreement include landlord harassment, violation of habitability standards, and if the tenant is a serviceman beginning active military duty with the armed forces.
If your tenant’s reasons for breaking the lease are not legally justified, you can hold them financially liable for the rent. Reasons that aren’t legally justified include breaking a lease to move in with a partner, to move closer to a new workplace or early termination, or to move into a recently purchased home. In these cases, rent is still owed.
In this article, we’ll take you through the Missouri laws regarding a tenant’s ability to break their lease agreement and what you can hold them accountable for.
Tenant Rights & Responsibilities when Signing a Lease in Missouri
As previously mentioned, a lease agreement obligates both the landlord and the tenant for a certain period of time. There are rights and responsibilties assigned to both parties. During the time period in which the lease is active, a Missouri landlord can’t make any changes to the terms of the lease without seeking approval from the tenant beforehand.
As a landlord, you cannot force your tenant to move out of the rental. Tenant rights allow them to remain in the unit while they rent it. There must be an agreement between the landlord and tenant in Missouri. Otherwise, if you do want or need them to leave the rental, you must follow specific procedures to remove them.
For nonpayment of rent, for instance, the landlord must begin the eviction process by serving their tenant with a 3-Days’ Pay or Quit Notice. This notice gives the tenant 3 days to either pay the rent you're owed or move out of the rental unit. If they don’t take either option, you can get legal advice, move to court and seek legal aid to remove the tenant. (Missouri Rev. Stat. § § 535.020, 535.060).
For a serious lease violation, such as the tenant manufacturing illegal substances on the property, the landlord may serve the tenant with an Unconditional Quit notice, ending the lease early. This notice gives them 10 days to move out of the property. (Mo. Ann. Stat. § § 441.030, 441.040).
Tenants have the responsibility to pay the full rent for the entire duration of the lease term, whether they live in the rental unit or not. However, there are exceptions to those rent rules.
When Breaking a Lease is Legally Justified in Missouri
It’s not always the case that Missouri tenants who break the lease agreement still owe the rent for the entire housing lease term. If their reason for breaking the lease is legally justified, they will not face any legal or financial repercussions. Even the security deposit must be justified in order to be kept in an early breaking of the lease. If there are unresolved financial disputes under $15,000 in value, however, the Small Claims Court should be involved in the settlement.
To break a lease early, legal justifications include:
1. If your tenant is starting active military duty.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act gives servicemembers who are tenants the right to break their lease agreements if they are beginning active duty. They will not be required to pay the remaining rent from the lease term. This right is reserved for members of the uniformed services.
State law determines the armed forces as including the activated National Guard, the armed services, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In Missouri, the state's only requirement within landlord-tenant laws is that they must provide their landlords with a written notice of their intent to terminate the lease. They must attach the proof of their deployment to the notice. The tenancy will then terminate exactly 30 days after the date that the next rent is due on the lease.
2. If you harass your tenant.
In Missouri, all forms of landlord harassment are illegal, even when it comes to rent. As such, as a landlord, you can get punished for such behavior. Common examples of landlord harassment include:
- Physically intimidating your tenant and making threats of physical violence.
- Threatening their financial injury, by reporting them to a credit bureau or providing them negative references to future landlords.
- Deliberately destroying their property.
- Creating disturbance that inhibits their right to peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their property.
- Withholding amenities that were previously available to a tenant.
- Failing to respond to a tenant maintenance request even after repeated calls to do so.
3. If you violate your tenant’s privacy rights.
Every tenant in Missouri has a right to the quiet and private enjoyment of the rental property. What this means is that barging in on them without notice can amount to landlord harassment. A landlord must give written notice.
A written notice gives the right to the landlord to enter, as well as respects the tenants who include privacy in why they pay housing rent. This is especially true if the disturbance occurs repeatedly. A landlord should give respect to their tenant if they don't want them to break the lease early, and with reason.
Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages
Landlords in Missouri must make reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant once their previous tenant leaves the property. This helps mitigate the financial responsibility of the tenant who has moved out of their housing, as the lease still holds them liable for paying the rent remaining under the lease.
With regards to re-renting the unit, a Missouri landlord must maintain their screening standards. For instance, renting to tenants with a bad credit rating is less likely to pay rent and more likely to result in a strained landlord-tenant relationship.
If you are lucky to find a new tenant, then the new tenant will only be liable for only the time the unit sat vacantly.
However, the bad news for your Missouri tenant is that they will still be liable for paying rent for the remainder of the lease term if you fail in your re-renting efforts.
Do you still have some questions? If so, Real Property Group can help. We are a full-service property management company that has been operating in various parts of Missouri for sixteen years now.