When can you leave the lease early?

Prepared by Columbus attorney Eric E. Willison of the Law Office of Eric E. Willison and reprinted with the permission of the Ohio State Bar Association

Q. My landlord will not fix things around the apartment. Can I use this as an excuse to get out of the lease agreement early?

A. It depends upon how serious the problems are. The law allows you to terminate your rental agreement and move out if:

• The problems pose a serious threat to your health and safety (for example, sparking outlets, insecure doors or windows, no water or electricity or heat, ceiling falling in, etc.).
• You’ve informed the landlord of the problem(s) in writing and the landlord did not fix the problem(s) within 30 days of getting your letter.
• You, the tenant, are current on the rent.

However, you likely will not be able to terminate your lease early for minor problems, such as an exhaust fan over the stove that does not work, a drafty window or a leaking faucet. If your landlord does not fix these problems, you may be able to encourage the landlord to address your concerns by escrowing your rent with the clerk of courts (assuming you do not owe any back rent).

Q. I suspect my apartment building  may have building code violations. How can I find out if there are violations, and can I end my lease agreement because of them?

A. Building codes differ somewhat from place to place. If you suspect there may be violations, you may wish to ask a local code inspector to inspect your apartment building. If the code violations are serious (such as gas leak or structural problem that could cause serious injury), you may be able to end your lease agreement.

If the code inspector finds the problems are serious, be ready to move on short notice, perhaps within 24 hours if the inspector posts an emergency notice to vacate. If your possession of the apartment is interrupted in this way, then your landlord will be responsible for a “material breach” of the lease agreement (meaning that, because you were forced out of your apartment, the landlord broke your lease). In almost every situation, this breach would allow you to end the lease agreement.

Q. There aren’t any serious problems with my apartment, but I want to move. If I leave the apartment before the lease is over, do I have to pay rent until the end of the lease agreement?

A. Yes, unless your landlord finds a new renter. Your landlord is obligated to try to find a new tenant (by advertising the apartment, for example). He can’t sit back for six months and let the apartment stay vacant just because you’re on the hook for that long, If, however, your landlord makes reasonable efforts to rent the place and finds no new renter, then you will have to pay rent through the end of the lease term.

Q. My personal circumstances have changed. Can I get out of my lease?

A. There is no Ohio law that specifically addresses this. Check your lease. For example, if you are leaving due to a job relocation, your lease may have a clause that allows you to terminate the lease for this reason. If there is nothing in your lease that allows for changes in personal circumstances, talk with your landlord. You may be able to work out a solution.

Q. If my landlord agrees, for whatever reason, to terminate my lease, is there anything more I should do?

A. Yes. In any circumstance, you should put the agreement in writing once you and the landlord have agreed to end the lease. Both you and the landlord should sign it. When you leave, you should videotape the apartment’s condition.