Signing a lease on an apartment can be an exciting experience, but it also comes with major responsibilities. No one expects to have to break a lease early, but things happen, and in some situations, you may not have another choice.
Missouri is fairly strict in terms of holding tenants responsible for fulfilling the responsibilities outlined in the agreement. However, there are situations where you are permitted to get out of the contract without repercussions if you have a valid reason. Otherwise, you may face significant penalties and legal consequences. Here is the complete guide on how to get out of a lease in Missouri.
Missouri Lease Laws – Tenant Rights and Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in Missouri
A lease is a legally binding agreement that outlines the rights and commitments of a landlord-tenant relationship. Before you move into an apartment, you’ll want to have a written document outlining the landlord’s and the renter’s rights so there is no confusion or disagreements. The state of Missouri requires lease agreements for one year or more to be written and signed by both the tenant and the landlord for the agreement to be legally binding. Oral agreements are only valid for one month, and even then, the state recommends getting everything in writing.
At a minimum, the lease must include the name, address, and phone number of the landlord and tenants (or tenants). It should also include the monthly rent due, the address of the property, the due date of the rent, whether there is a grace period, the length of the lease, and the amount of the security deposit.
By signing a lease agreement with the required information, the landlord and tenant are required to do the following.
|Tenant Obligations||Landlord Obligations|
|Pay rent on time||Maintain a habitable environment for tenants|
|Not damage the property beyond normal wear and tear||Make repairs when necessary due to ordinary wear and tear|
|Properly dispose of garbage||Refrain from turning off utilities|
|Refrain from subleasing or bringing in additional tenants without permission||Provide written notice when property ownership is transferred|
Both the landlord and the tenant are expected to uphold their end of the agreement for the duration of the rental contract. However, things happen, and if either party fails to live up to their end of the bargain, there can be legal consequences. If the tenant fails to pay rent on time, does excessive damage to the apartment, or otherwise violates the contract terms, the landlord may initiate the eviction process.
In Missouri, a landlord cannot legally evict a tenant without a court order. Likewise, a tenant cannot break the lease and stop paying rent without filing a lawsuit and waiting for a judge’s decision, except under specific circumstances.
What Happens if You Break a Lease in Missouri?
Breaking a Missouri lease agreement without a court order or a valid excuse can have many serious consequences. First, the landlord may take legal action by suing you for the rent you should have paid under the lease agreement and other costs related to cleaning the apartment and finding a new tenant. Even if the lawsuit is unsuccessful, you may still be required to pay legal fees to fight the case. Plus, they will almost certainly keep your security deposit, and you will have little recourse for getting it back.
It may also make it more difficult to find another place to live. Many landlords ask for references from previous landlords on your application, and if you end things on bad terms, it may make your life more difficult in the future. Plus, if you live in a small town or you’re dealing with a large corporate landlord with connections in the area, they could spread the word to advise others not to rent to you.
Not to mention, it could potentially affect your credit score. Although rent isn’t always reported to credit bureaus, the landlord may try to recoup any unpaid debts by using a collections agency. Once your debt goes into collections, they will likely report it to credit bureaus, impacting your score. So, if you want to minimize the financial repercussions of breaking an apartment lease in Missouri, make sure to settle any debts before moving on.
How to Get Out of a Lease in Missouri
Although getting out of a lease early in Missouri isn’t easy, there are a few scenarios where you can legally break the contract and not face any serious consequences. Here’s how to break a lease without penalty in Missouri.
Early Termination Clause
Not all landlords mind if you move out early. If the rental market is strong enough, the landlord may feel it isn’t worth fighting with you and allow you to terminate the contract without serious penalties. In that case, they may include an early termination clause which allows you to legally break the lease as long as you follow specific instructions.
Typically, you’ll be required to provide a certain amount of advanced notice and be required to pay an early termination fee. So it will cost you, but the fee may be significantly less than what you’d otherwise owe in back rent if you continue the agreement. It’s completely up to the landlord’s discretion whether they want to include this clause or not. Be sure to read the document carefully and speak directly with the landlord or management company to double-check the procedure. But this is usually the most straightforward way to break a lease in Missouri without negative consequences.
Active Duty Military
Active duty military personnel have the right to end their lease with 15 days’ notice under certain circumstances related to their occupation.
Those circumstances include:
- Permanent change of station
- Temporary duty station at least 25 miles away for 90 days or more
- Discharge or release from active duty
- Ordered to live in government-supplied quarters
As long as other conditions have been met, the tenant may legally break the lease and be entitled to a full refund of their security deposit.
Constructive eviction is another valid reason for breaking a lease; however, it can be a bit more complicated than the other methods listed. Constructive eviction is when a tenant is effectively forced to move out due to wrongful conduct by the landlord or a failure to maintain a habitable environment in the apartment.
Missouri Law states, “A constructive eviction arises when the lessor, by wrongful conduct or by the omission of a duty placed upon him in the lease, substantially interferes with the lessee’s beneficial enjoyment of the demised premises. Under this doctrine, the tenant is allowed to abandon the lease and excuse himself from the obligations of rent”.
Say your window is broken in the middle of winter through no fault of your own, and the landlord refuses to fix it within a reasonable time frame, causing the apartment to be so cold it’s uninhabitable. This could qualify as a constructive eviction. Other examples include changing the locks while you’re at work or showing up unannounced without prior warning. These acts are a substantial breach of their duties as a landlord and would constitute them breaking the lease agreement first, meaning you are within your legal right to move out and stop paying rent.
However, before you stop paying rent, you may want to consult a lawyer to discuss Missouri renter’s rights for breaking a lease so you can ensure the landlord’s actions constitute constructive eviction. If you simply move out and stop paying rent, they could end up suing you, in which case the case will go before a judge. If the judge decides their actions do not qualify as constructive eviction, you could still be on the hook for any back rent, plus legal fees. So make sure to gather as much evidence as possible and consult a professional before moving out.
Other Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Missouri
Sexual Assault or Stalking: Missouri law allows victims of sexual assault, harassment, or stalking the right to terminate a lease as long as certain conditions are met. However, the landlord is entitled to see proof in the form of a police report or statement from a healthcare professional.
Illegal or Unenforceable Contract: You can’t break a contract that wasn’t legitimate in the first place. In certain circumstances, the lease may be invalid or unenforceable, for instance, if it doesn’t have both parties’ signatures or if the tenant was a minor at the time of signing.
Landlord Harassment: Landlords are also prohibited from harassing tenants, even if they are attempting to collect rent. Examples of harassment include threats of violence, destruction of personal property, or withholding utilities or repairs while the tenant is still occupying the property. If the harassment is severe, it may be grounds to terminate the lease early.
The landlord can keep your security deposit to pay back rent if you break the lease early without a reasonable justification. But, if they do so, it is their responsibility to find a new tenant. Once a new tenant is in the unit, your responsibility officially ends. They could technically return the deposit and require you to find a new tenant or sue you for back rent. But doing so would likely be riskier and more expensive than simply using the deposit to cover the difference while they look for a new tenant, which is the route most landlords are likely to take.
Minimize Early Termination Penalty
If you don’t have a legally valid excuse for breaking the lease but still need to leave before the end of the term, there are a few ways you can minimize the damage. The first is to contact the landlord directly and explain your situation. If you have a reason that isn’t recognized by Missouri law but is still legitimate, such as a recent death in the family or a new job offer in a different city, they may be open to finding a solution.
Landlords are human at the end of the day, and many will be willing to work with you if you’re honest and provide proper notice. You may also offer to pay some of the rent you’d otherwise owe to help them bridge the gap until they can find a new tenant. You could even help find a new tenant yourself and agree to sublet the apartment until the end of the term. Whatever you can do to make the transition smooth and painless will help you leave on good terms and ensure there aren’t any serious consequences.
Breaking a lease in Missouri and need to move quickly? Trust St. Louis Movers – who service all of Missouri – to make your journey easy and stress-free. Call us today at 800-747-4100 or fill out the form on our website to request a free quote.