My Charleston Tenant Wants to Break the Lease - Termination Advice for Landlords - Article Banner

When a tenant breaks the lease, it’s disruptive to you and your cash flow. It also seems painfully unfair; one of the reasons you sign a lease agreement with a tenant is so you want to know for certain how long a person will be in place, paying rent. A lease is a contractual agreement, and you expect your tenants to keep their end of the agreement. 

There are a few reasons in which a tenant can legally break a lease in South Carolina without penalty. We’re going to discuss those, and we’re also going to talk about your own obligations as a landlord when a tenant has given notice before the lease ends. 

When your tenant wants to break the lease and move out early, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to mitigate your own financial losses and those of your tenants. 

Here’s our best advice as your Charleston property management experts

Legal Reasons for Lease Breaks in Charleston 

Your lease agreement should include all the penalties and potential consequences for a broken lease. Even with those protections in place, however, you need to understand that the South Carolina Landlord and Tenant Law allows for certain situations where a tenant can legally leave without being penalized. These reasons include:

  • Military deployment

When you’re renting to members of the military, you might lose that tenant earlier than you expect. PCS orders can come in at any time, and your tenant might be called for active duty or ordered to a change of station even while they’re in the middle of your lease. 

This covers tenants who are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard, the Public Health Service, and other government service groups and agencies. The law that permits this is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. They can leave your property without penalty when they receive military orders. 

Tenants need to provide you with a notice of their intentions to end the lease early at least 30 days before they move. You can ask for proof of the deployment orders. Then, the tenancy will automatically end thirty days after the date that the next rent is due.

  • Landlord harassment 

All forms of harassment are illegal in the state of South Carolina, and that includes harassment from landlords. The law specifically considers harassment of tenants by the landlord a “constructive eviction.” The courts see you as essentially evicting a tenant by causing them distress and violating their rights to privacy or quiet enjoyment of their home. 

Landlord harassment can take many forms, and if you are guilty of doing any of these things, your tenant can break the lease and move out before the end of their term, without any penalties. 

  • Threats of physical violence or intimidation.
  • Threats of financial injury, such as refusing to provide positive references to future landlords.
  • Deliberate destruction of a tenant’s property.
  • Showing up at the home uninvited and without notice.
  • Refusing to accept or otherwise acknowledge proper payment of rent.
  • Withholding amenities, such as landscaping or pest control.

You don’t want to be that landlord. Not only is it a justifiable reason for your tenant to break a lease, it also reflects poorly on you and the way you operate your rental business.

  • Uninhabitable rental property

You are responsible for providing a safe and habitable residence for your tenants, who pay you rent. If you are letting a lot of maintenance issues go or there are no safety standards being met, your tenant can lawfully leave. The specific requirements you must follow in order to move out are set out under South Carolina landlord-tenant law (S.C. Code Ann. § § 27-40-630 and 27-40-640).

Habitable housing required:

  • Hot water and heat.
  • Access to working electrical systems.
  • Working plumbing systems.
  • Working smoke detectors.
  • Floors, walls, and ceilings that are insulated and rodent-proof.
  • Toilets that flush.
  • Doors and windows that open, close, and lock.

These are some of the reasons a tenant can leave before their lease expires without penalty. If any of these apply to your situation, you’ll want to work with your tenants to establish a move-out date and then work quickly to get the home ready for your next renters. 

Landlord Obligation to Find a Replacement Tenant

South Carolina LawSouth Carolina law (S.C. Code Ann. § 27-40-730 (c)) requires you to work quickly to find a replacement tenant so your departing tenant is not responsible for paying all the rent due for the remaining term of the lease.

In a market that moves as quickly as this one, it should not take too long to find a tenant to move in and mitigate the loss that you and your tenant are likely to experience. You can use the departing tenant’s security deposit to cover any rent that you aren’t able to collect due to the unexpected vacancy. If the amount doesn’t cover what you lost, you can file a lawsuit against your tenant in a small claims court. However, it’s generally better for everyone if you find a new tenant quickly. 

Here is what you’re permitted to do in your efforts to re-rent the property when a tenant breaks the lease:

  • Set the rental rate at standard market value. If the average rent has gone up since you rented the property out to the tenant who is breaking the lease, you don’t have to rent your property below the standard market value. Set a fair and market-driven rent. 
  • Add necessary and documented costs to the tenant’s bill. You can expect the tenant who is leaving to pay for tenant screening and advertising costs.

Keeping communication open with the tenant who is breaking their lease is essential. They should want to minimize their own financial liability, and therefore they’ll be willing to work with you. Ask them to help with showings and finding a new tenant. 

If you’re struggling through a lease break, contact us at Meridian Residential Group. We’d be glad to help.

Meridian Residential Group in North Charleston provides both single-family and multi-family property management in the Charleston, SC area, including in North Charleston, Summerville, Goose Creek, and Moncks Corner, among other cities.