BREAKING A LEASE
Although the word “lease” is not actually used in the Residential Tenancy Act, many people refer to fixed-term tenancies as “leases”. A fixed-term tenancy is a legally-binding contract where both the tenant and landlord agree to enter into a tenancy for a certain period of time, usually six months or 12 months.
Loss of rent
You have a legal responsibility to follow the terms of your fixed-term tenancy agreement. If you break your lease, you may have to pay your landlord some money, but it’s not as simple as automatically owing all of the remaining months of rent. Once your landlord knows that you are breaking your lease, they have a legal responsibility to mitigate, or minimize, your loss by trying to find a new tenant to rent your unit at a fair price. If you have evidence that your landlord didn’t take reasonable steps to re-rent your place, you may not be required to pay for any of their lost rental income. For example, if your landlord delayed posting an advertisement, or advertised your unit at a significantly higher rate, they may not be entitled to any compensation from you. For more information, see Policy Guideline #5 – Duty to Minimize Loss and Policy Guideline #3 – Claims for Rent and Damages for Loss of Rent.
In BC’s competitive rental housing market, it is likely that your landlord will be able to quickly find a replacement tenant. If that’s the case, and your landlord doesn’t lose any rental income, you may not owe them anything at all.
Some fixed-term tenancy agreements have a term requiring that the tenant pay a “liquidated damages” fee if they end the tenancy early. Liquidated damages is meant to be a genuine pre-estimate of the costs associated with re-renting the unit (advertising, showing the unit, etc.). This fee must be reasonable, otherwise it may be considered a “penalty” and be unenforceable.
For more information, see Policy Guideline #4 – Liquidated Damages.
Mutual agreement to end tenancy
Your landlord may simply agree to end your tenancy early. To help convince your landlord, do what you can to help them find a new tenant. For example, offer to advertise your unit and cooperate when it is being shown to potential replacements. See TRAC’s template letter, Request to Cooperate in Finding a Replacement Tenant.
If your landlord is willing to end your tenancy early, fill out a Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy Form.
Sublet or assignment
Assigning your tenancy means finding another tenant to permanently take over your agreement. Subletting your tenancy means finding another tenant to temporarily take over your agreement. In order to assign or sublet your tenancy, you must have your landlord’s written consent. However, if your fixed-term tenancy has at least six months on it, your landlord cannot unreasonably withhold their consent. See TRAC’s template letter, Request for Permission to Assign or Sublet.
See our page on Sublet and Assignment for more information.
Landlord is breaking the law
In most cases, tenants are not allowed to stop paying rent or end their tenancy because their landlord is breaking the law. However, you are allowed to end a tenancy early if your landlord has breached (not followed) a material term in your tenancy agreement, and has not complied with your written request to correct the situation. A material term is a term so important to the agreement that that tenancy cannot reasonably continue if it is breached. See TRAC’s template letter, Written Notice for Failure to Comply with a Material Term.
For more information, see our page on Breaching Important Terms.
Family violence or long term care
Tenants are allowed to end a fixed-term tenancy by providing one month written notice if they:
- need to leave the rental unit to protect themselves or their children from family violence,
- have been assessed as requiring long-term care, or
- have been accepted into a long-term care facility.
See TRAC’s template letters, Notice to End Tenancy Early Due to Family Violence and Notice to End Tenancy Early Due to Long Term Care.
In order to legally end a tenancy in these circumstances, the tenant must provide the landlord with a completed form, Ending Fixed-Term Tenancy Confirmation Statement, completed by an authorized third-party verifier. Examples include:
- transition house workers
- outreach workers
- police officers
- victim court support caseworkers
- registered social workers
- long-term care facility managers or health authority case managers
- Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy Form
- Policy Guideline #3 – Claims for Rent and Damages for Loss of Rent
- Policy Guideline #4 – Liquidated Damages
- Policy Guideline #5 – Duty to Minimize Loss
- Policy Guideline #8 – Unconscionable and Material Terms
- Policy Guideline #19 – Assignment and Sublet
- Policy Guideline #30 – Fixed-Term Tenancies
- Tenant Survival Guide Chapter 9 – Breaking a lease