Breaking a Lease

The Basics

You may have to pay your landlord some money if you end your fixed term tenancy early – often referred to as “breaking a lease” – but it is not as simple as automatically owing the remaining months of rent. Once you have broken your lease, your landlord has a legal responsibility to minimize your loss, or “mitigate”, by trying to re-rent your unit at a fair price. See Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) Policy Guideline 5 for more information. To help your landlord find a replacement tenant, consider sending them TRAC’s template letter, Finding a Replacement Tenant.

 


 

Consequences for Breaking a Lease

If your landlord is forced to re-rent your unit at a $25 discount to secure a replacement tenant, they could be entitled to $25 per month over the remaining term of your agreement. However, if your landlord can re-rent your unit for more than what you were paying, that additional money they will earn over the remaining months of your agreement can be or applied to, or “set off” against, any other money you owe your landlord for unpaid rent or damages. See RTB Policy Guideline 3 for more information.

If your landlord applies for a monetary order against you but cannot prove that they made an honest attempt to re-rent your unit, you may not be required to pay for any of their lost rental income. This means that if your landlord refused to show your unit to potential tenants, never posted an advertisement, or had too high of an asking price, they may not be entitled to any monetary compensation.

Liquidated damages: If you break a lease that includes a “liquidated damages” clause, you could be held responsible for the costs associated with finding a replacement tenant. A liquidated damages clause cannot be unreasonably high, especially considering the number of free online advertising options that are available. Liquidated damages is supposed to be a reasonable pre-estimate of the cost of re-renting a unit – not a penalty for breaking a lease. See RTB Policy Guideline 4 for more information

 


 

Alternatives to Breaking a Lease

If you must end your tenancy early, there are a few options to consider before packing up and leaving. Depending on your situation, you may be able to end your tenancy without having to illegally break your lease.

 

Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy

Your landlord may simply agree to end your tenancy early. To help convince them, offer to help find a new tenant by advertising your rental unit and making it accessible for regular viewings. The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) offers a standard “Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy” form.

 

Sublet / Assignment

You might be able to sublet or assign your tenancy agreement. A sublet occurs when a tenant temporarily moves out and rents their unit to a subtenant until they return, whereas an assignment occurs when a tenant permanently moves out and transfers their agreement to a new tenant. To sublet or assign your tenancy agreement, you must have your landlord’s written consent. However, according to section 34(2) of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), if your fixed term tenancy agreement has at least six months remaining on it, your landlord cannot unreasonably withhold their consent. If you believe your landlord is unreasonably withholding consent, you have the right to apply for dispute resolution to ask for an order allowing you to sublet or assign your tenancy.

There are important differences between sublets and assignments. When you sublet a rental unit, you retain rights and responsibilities associated with that tenancy agreement. However, when you assign a rental unit, your rights and responsibilities are usually transferred to the person to whom you are assigning the agreement. See RTB Policy Guideline 19 for more information.

Exception: The sublet and assignment rules in the RTA do not apply to non-profit housing that falls under section 2 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.

 

Landlord Breach of Material Term

According to section 45(3) of the RTA, you can consider ending your tenancy early if your landlord has breached a “material term” and failed to correct the situation within a reasonable period after receiving your written warning. According to RTB Policy Guideline 8, a material term is a term that is so important that even the simplest breach or violation may give you the right to end the tenancy. The RTA does not define “material term”, since the same term could be considered material in one tenancy but not another. If you end your tenancy due to breach of a material term, your landlord may apply for a monetary order against you, so be prepared to convince an arbitrator that there was no way your tenancy could have continued. Alternatively, you can apply for dispute resolution to request permission to end your tenancy early.

 

Family Violence / Long Term Care

Tenants can end a fixed term tenancy early by providing one month written notice if they:

  • need to leave their 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.

To legally end a tenancy in these circumstances, you must provide your landlord with a completed RTB form, “Ending Fixed Term Tenancy Confirmation Statement”, signed by an authorized third-party verifier.

When ending a tenancy early due to family violence, here are some common examples of third party verifiers:

  • medical practitioner;
  • nurse practitioner;
  • psychologist;
  • social worker;
  • police officer;
  • counsellor;
  • practising lawyer; or
  • victim court support caseworker;

When ending a tenancy early due to long-term care, here are some common examples of third party verifiers:

  • medical practitioner;
  • nurse practitioner;
  • psychologist;
  • social worker;
  • manager of a long-term care facility; or
  • occupational therapist.

For more information on this topic, including a full list of all third-party verifiers, see Part 7 of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.

 


 

Previous Legal Decisions

 

  • Liquidated damages
  • Cost of ending fixed term tenancy
  • Landlord did not try to minimize loss