When renters ask, "Can I break my lease?" they generally mean, "May I terminate my lease early without liability?" Here are eight situations in which a tenant may rightfully terminate a residential lease in Oklahoma without liability.
When the lease agreement provides the tenant the right to terminate.
In Oklahoma residential leases (apartments, duplexes, houses, etc.) are governed by (1) the parties' lease agreement, and (2) the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ORLTA). The ORLTA imposes certain duties on landlords and tenants and gives them certain rights and remedies. It doesn't replace the parties' lease agreement, but any provisions of the lease that conflict with the rights and remedies provided by the ORLTA are generally unenforceable.
So, the starting point is always the terms of the lease itself. The ORLTA provides that a lease for a definite period of time terminates automatically, without notice, on the ending date provided in the lease. If the lease agreement gives the tenant a right to terminate the lease earlier than the ending date provided under certain circumstances, then the tenant may rightfully terminate the lease under those circumstances as provided in the lease agreement.
NOTE: Because of the way leases are written, a tenant's rights and remedies may not be obvious from a casual reading. Before taking action (or deciding not to take action), a tenant should have a lawyer review the lease agreement and advise them about their specific rights and obligations and any other options they might have in their situation.
In a month-to-month lease, by giving 30 days' written notice of termination.
The ORLTA provides that a lease may be either month-to-month or for a definite term. If the lease is not in writing, or if the written lease does not provide for an ending date or a definite period of time (for example, "6 months beginning January 1, 2018"), the lease is considered to be month-to-month.
Either party may terminate a month-to-month lease by giving written notice to the other party at least 30 days before the date upon which the termination is to become effective. To be effective the notice must be in writing and it must be delivered personally to the landlord (or the person designated in the lease as the person authorized to manage the premises or to act for and receive notices for the owner) or, if it cannot be served personally, then it must be mailed to the landlord or designated person by certified mail. The 30-day period begins to run from the date the notice is served on the landlord.
If the landlord fails to deliver possession of the premises.
Under the ORLTA, if the landlord fails to deliver possession of the dwelling unit to the tenant by the beginning date of the lease, the tenant may terminate the lease by giving a written notice of termination to the landlord, and the landlord must return any prepaid rent and security deposit.
If the landlord fails to repair a problem that affects health or safety.
Tenants often believe that they have the right to terminate their lease any time the landlord fails or refuses to do something required under the lease, usually make necessary repairs. That is only partially true.
For most problems, the tenant must report the problem to the landlord (written notice is preferred but not required), and if it is not repaired within a reasonable time, the tenant cannot terminate the lease, but the tenant has the right to file a lawsuit against the landlord requesting the court to order the landlord to make the repairs and award compensation for damages the tenant incurred as a direct result of the landlord's breach of the lease agreement. The court may also order the losing party to pay the attorneys' fees and costs incurred by the winning party.
If there is a "material noncompliance by the landlord" with the terms of the lease, or a problem that "materially affects health or safety," the tenant can choose to terminate the lease by delivering to the landlord written notice specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach and stating that the lease will terminate on a certain date (which is at least 30 days after the landlord receives the notice) if the problem is not fixed within 14 days. If the landlord fails to fix the problem within 14 days, the lease is terminated as of the termination date stated in the notice.
If a problem renders the dwelling uninhabitable or "poses an imminent threat to the health and safety of any occupant" and the problem is not fixed "as promptly as conditions require," or if the landlord willfully or negligently fails to supply heat, running water, hot water, electric, gas or other essential service as required by the lease or the ORLTA, the tenant may terminate the lease immediately by delivering to the landlord a written notice of lease termination specifying the problem.
If the premises are severely damaged or destroyed.
Under the ORLTA, if the premises are damaged or destroyed by "fire or other casualty [not the fault of the tenant] to an extent that enjoyment of the dwelling unit is substantially impaired" the tenant may choose to immediately vacate the premises and give the landlord written notice of lease termination (by certified mail within one week of vacating the premises), and the landlord must return all deposits owed to the tenant and any prepaid and unearned rent calculated as of the date the fire or other casualty.
If the landlord wrongfully removes or excludes the tenant from the premises.
Under the ORLTA, if a landlord wrongfully removes or excludes a tenant from possession of a dwelling unit, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement after giving notice of such intention to the landlord, and the landlord must return all deposits owed to the tenant and any prepaid and unearned rent.
If the landlord enters the premises unlawfully or in an unreasonable manner.
Under the ORLTA, if the landlord makes an unlawful entry, or a lawful entry in an unreasonable manner, or harasses the tenant by making repeated unreasonable demands for entry, the tenant may terminate the lease by giving the landlord written notice of termination.
If the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applies.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) applies to any lease of premises occupied, or intended to be occupied, by a servicemember or a servicemember's dependents if: (1) the lease is executed by or on behalf of a person who thereafter and during the term of the lease enters military service; OR (2) the servicemember, while in military service, executes the lease and thereafter receives military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of not less than 90 days.
To terminate the lease, the servicemember must deliver written notice of lease termination and a copy of his or her military orders to the landlord or the landlord's agent. If the servicemember pays rent on a monthly basis, once he or she gives proper notice, the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due.
The servicemember is required to pay rent for only those months before the lease is terminated. If rent has been paid in advance, the landlord must prorate and refund the unearned portion. If a security deposit was required, it must be returned to the servicemember upon termination of the lease.
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