Many tenants who sign a lease for their apartment or rental unit plan to stay for the full amount of time required in the lease, such as one year. But despite having the best intentions, tenants sometimes want (or need) to leave before the lease is up.
Leaving before a fixed-term lease expires is called "breaking the lease." Most of the time, tenants who break a lease are on the hook for the remaining rent due unless the landlord rerents the unit or lets you off the hook. However, there are a few circumstances in which an Arizona tenant might be able to break a lease without further liability for the rent.
In Arizona, a tenant might be able to break a lease without owing future rent in the following situations.
An Arizona tenant who has been the victim of domestic violence or has been the victim of sexual assault in the unit can break the lease. The tenant must provide the landlord with written notice requesting to be let out of the lease or rental agreement on an agreed-upon date within the next 30 days. The notice must include one of the following:
The tenant has the right to break the lease only if the events that resulted in the tenant being a victim happened within the 30-day period immediately before the tenant's notice of termination (unless the landlord agrees otherwise). The tenant is liable only for rent and fees owed through the date of the lease termination. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1318 (2022).)
A law enforcement officer who is protected under an injunction against harassment can break a lease or rental agreement in the same manner that a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault can (see discussion above). The injunction must have been issued within the 30-day period immediately before the written termination notice, unless the landlord agrees otherwise. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1318.01 (2022).)
Members of the "uniformed services" have the right to break their lease under certain circumstances, such as when they receive an order for permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit. "Uniformed services" includes anyone in the armed forces, commissioned corps of the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard. A tenant in this situation must give their landlord written notice of termination. The content of the notice and the date of termination depend on the reason the servicemember is breaking the lease—for example, if the tenant is entering military service, the tenancy will terminate 30 days after the next rent due date after the notice is delivered. (50 U.S.C. § 3955 (2022).)
If an Arizona landlord breaches the lease or rental agreement—or materially lies in writing about the condition or availability of the rental—the tenant can deliver a written notice to the landlord stating what the issue is and that the tenancy will terminate on the 11th day if the breach isn't remedied within 10 days. If the breach materially affects health and safety, the tenant can deliver a written notice giving the landlord only five days to fix the problem. The tenant can break the lease and move out if the landlord doesn't meet the deadline. Also, if the breach materially affects health and safety (and the tenant give the landlord a written five-day notice), the tenant can find another place to live while the landlord fixes the issue and seek reimbursement from the landlord. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1361 (2022).)
Note: In some limited circumstances, Arizona tenants can pay for repairs themselves and deduct the costs from their rent. However, when a tenant chooses to do this, they might be prohibited from breaking the lease. Tenants should never withhold rent or move out because of a landlord's breach without first consulting an attorney to make sure that they are choosing the right response to the landlord's noncompliance—otherwise, they risk being evicted and held liable for all rent. See Arizona Revised Statutes sections 33-1361, 33-1363, and 33-1364 for more information.
Unless it's an emergency, Arizona landlords must give tenants two days' notice before entering the rental. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1343 (2022).) When a landlord enters without permission or makes repeated demands for entry that effectively become harassment of the tenant, the tenant has the choice of either getting a court order to stop the behavior or moving out. The tenant is also entitled to damages in the amount of at least a month's rent. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1376 (2022).)
Even when a tenant doesn't have legal justification for breaking a lease, the tenant might not be responsible for paying the future rent due. Under Arizona law, landlords must make reasonable efforts to rerent the unit—no matter the tenant's reason for leaving. In legal terms, this is known as a landlord's "duty to mitigate" damages. The tenant will be on the hook for only the amount of rent due until the landlord rerents the unit.
The landlord doesn't need to relax the rental criteria for finding a new tenant—for example, the landlord doesn't have to accept someone with a poor credit history just to fill the vacancy. Also, the landlord is not required to rent the unit for less than fair market value, or to immediately turn their attention to renting the unit to the detriment of other business. Also, the landlord can charge the former tenant for reasonable expenses incurred because of the tenant's early departure—for example, the costs of advertising the property.
If, despite the landlord's best efforts, the landlord can't find a renter who will pay as much as the departed tenant, the departed tenant is responsible for the difference between the rent under the lease and the amount the new tenant pays. If the tenant's security deposit isn't enough to cover all the rent owed and expenses, the landlord can sue the former tenant to recover the difference.
When a landlord doesn't make a reasonable effort to rerent, the tenancy is deemed to have ended on the day that the landlord had notice that the tenant left, and the tenant won't be responsible for further rent.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-1370 (2022).)
When a tenant wants to break a lease without legal justification, there are better options than just moving out and hoping the landlord gets a new tenant quickly. Many times, it's in the best interest of both the landlord and the tenant to work out an agreement regarding an early termination.
It's a good idea for tenants to provide as much notice as possible by writing a sincere letter to their landlord explaining why they need to leave early. Also, a tenant might offer to help the landlord find a suitable replacement—someone with good credit and excellent references—to sign a lease when they move out. Often, landlords are willing to work with tenants who need to move early when they know there's a replacement tenant lined up.
Need a lawyer? Start here.