A rental vacancy is every Oklahoma landlord’s worst nightmare. So, it’s understandably upsetting for a landlord when a tenant breaks their lease early.
Generally, when a tenant signs a lease they intend to live in the rental until the lease ends at which point they will either move or renew. However, circumstances can change and a tenant may need to move out earlier than they anticipated.
The tenant, for instance, might be moving into the new home they recently bought or they may need to move to get closer to their new place of work or school. The reason for needing to break a lease early are endless.
Here’s what you need to know about the proper procedure that tenants and landlords must follow when breaking a lease in Oklahoma.
Landlord’s Rights & Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in Oklahoma
The lease itself gives landlords certain rights and responsibilities. For one, as a landlord, you have a right to require tenants to pay rent for the entire duration of the lease. And this is regardless of whether they continue living on the property or not.
You also have a right to receive proper notice when a tenant is looking to terminate their lease. For weekly agreements, the tenant must provide you a 7-day written notice. And for monthly agreements, they must provide you a 30-day written notice. This will help you plan accordingly and look for a new tenant to fill the vacancy.
You can also make appropriate deductions on a tenant’s security deposit. So, when a tenant moves out without legal justification, you may be able to cut your losses by deducting appropriate amounts from their deposit.
The lease also gives you certain responsibilities. As a landlord, you must ensure that your Oklahoma tenants live in a habitable rental property and that you respect their tenant’s rights.
If you fail to honor such responsibilities, your tenant may have various options to pursue. Including, terminating the lease without notice.
When Breaking a Lease in Oklahoma is Legally Justified
Breaking a lease can attract significant legal and financial consequences. Some exceptions do, however, exist. They are as follows:
Early Termination Clause
An early termination clause provides a gateway for tenants to break their lease legally. An early lease termination clause usually provides specific terms that a tenant must adhere to.
For example, it may require a tenant to pay a penalty fee if they wish to terminate early. The penalty is often equivalent to two months’ rent. Early termination clauses also require a tenant to provide ample notice, usually 30 days.
Before following through with the termination clause, be sure to review the lease because depending on the conditions listed in it, payment of the penalty fee may not be required.
Violation of the Tenant’s Privacy
Oklahoma tenants, just like in the rest of the country, have a right to privacy. As a landlord, you aren’t entitled to go through your tenant’s unit and belongings as you please.
There are some valid reasons to enter a tenant’s unit. These include:
- To show the property to prospective tenants, buyers, or lenders
- To make needed or requested repairs or improvements
- When the landlord believes you have abandoned the property
- Under court orders
- To inspect the unit for damage or lease adherence
Besides having a good reason, you also need to notify your tenants before you enter the unit. In Oklahoma, you must provide your tenant with a 24 hours’ notice.
Landlord harassment can manifest itself in several ways. Entering the tenant’s unit without notice, for instance, is a form of landlord harassment.
Other examples of landlord harassment include:
- Failing to perform your maintenance tasks in a responsible and timely fashion
- Physically intimidating and threatening your tenant
- Threatening your tenant with financial injuries, like refusing to provide a positive reference to a future landlord or reporting the tenant to a credit bureau
- Deliberately destroying property belonging to your tenant
- Withholding amenities that the tenant previously enjoyed, such as landscaping services or pool privileges
All these actions are illegal and a tenant can cite them as a reason to terminate their lease.
A Tenant Goes on Active Military Duty
Service members who are relocated due to a deployment or permanent change of station are protected by the Service Members Relief Act. The protection begins the moment they start active duty and ends 30 to 90 days after being discharged.
Service members are those that belong to the:
- Activated National Guard
- Armed forces
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
- Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
It should be noted that the lease is not immediately terminated, it ends 30 days after the next rent period begins.
The Unit Becomes Uninhabitable
Every state, including Oklahoma, requires landlords to meet certain health and safety codes. If you fail to do so, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted.” And as a result, the tenant would have no obligations under the lease.
Keeping a property habitable means doing things like:
- Supplying running water and ensuring reasonable amounts of hot water is available at all times
- Providing and maintaining appropriate garbage receptacles
- Maintaining all heating, sanitary, plumbing, and air conditioning systems
- Keeping all common areas clean and safe
- Making all repairs and doing whatever is necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition
When Breaking a Lease in Oklahoma is Legally Unjustified
The following are reasons that have no legal basis for a tenant to break their lease.
- The tenant bought a house
- The tenant is relocated to a new job or school
- They are moving closer to family
Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-Rent in Oklahoma
As a landlord, in Oklahoma, do you have a duty to re-rent your property after a tenant leaves? Yes!
Regardless of the reason for moving out, you must make reasonable efforts to “mitigate damages” and re-rent the unit.
There are a lot of reasons someone would need to break their lease early. As a landlord, you need to ensure you’re fulfilling all your legal responsibilities and staying up-to-date on any changes to Oklahoma’s landlord-tenant laws. Considering seeing the advice and assistance of a legal professional and a property management company.
Do you still have some questions or need expert help? Draper Realty can help! We are an experienced property management company serving property owners in Norman, Moore, and Noble. Get in touch to get started!
Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for legal advice. Consult a legal expert or a professional property management company for more help and information.