When tenants don’t fully understand their obligations to the landlord as per their Lease Agreement, they could inadvertently breach their contract and find themselves facing a tough situation such as eviction.

Likewise, a tenant may try to resolve a problem with their tenancy and unintentionally violate their agreement (like using part of their rent to pay for a repair the landlord failed to make, for instance).

In this post, we’ll discuss what it means to breach a Lease Agreement, common ways tenants violate their lease terms, and how to avoid those scenarios.

What is a Breach of Contract?

A breach of contract occurs when one or more parties in an agreement don’t hold up their end of a bargain by failing to perform their obligations in the contract one way or another.

When it comes to residential leases, breaches and violations by tenants can often be chocked up to ignorance or accident, caused by tenants not fully understanding the conditions of or their obligations in their Lease Agreement.

For example, let’s say you’re in need of electrical repairs because some of your outlets aren’t working or some of your light fixtures are malfunctioning. The first step is to give your landlord a Notice to Repair explaining the issue and requesting they find someone to handle the repairs.

Now let’s say your landlord ignores the notice, and your electrical systems go weeks—or even months—without repair. Many tenants think they can withhold their monthly rent payment until the landlord fixes the problem. Unfortunately, this could violate their rental contract (since it likely contains a clause about paying rent on time), and the landlord could have grounds to evict them.

In such a predicament, it’s better to not give your landlord an excuse to evict you. There are ways to handle problematic landlords including reporting to national organizations like the Rental Protection Agency’s complaint center.

Common Ways Tenants Violate Their Leases

Violating terms in your lease can land you in some hot water with your landlord if you’re not careful.

Common violations include:

  • Sneaking in pets in a “no pets” property
  • Smoking in a smoke-free unit
  • Running a business on the property
  • Having “long-term guests” living in the unit

These violations, of course, are usually only violations if they’re prohibited in your written Lease Agreement.

In many cases, these clauses are in place to protect against liability. For instance, if you’re leasing a home and operating a daycare and a child gets hurt on the property, would the landlord, as the actual owner of the property, have some liability there? It’s possible.

To avoid situations like these, it’s common for landlords to prohibit business activities from taking place within the rental property—especially if your business activities involve bringing clients into the unit.

What Happens if You Breach the Terms in Your Lease?

Oftentimes, if a tenant has violated a term in the Lease Agreement, the landlord will serve them with a Lease Violation notice. This document (also known as a Notice to Pay or Quit) will cite the violated term in the contract and will typically offer one of two potential courses of action to remedy the situation: an eviction notice or a way to amend the violation.

For example, if a lease has a “no pets” condition and the landlord finds out the tenant has a cat, the landlord will likely serve the tenant a Lease Violation notice and give them a timeframe to either remove the pet or vacate the property.

Alternatively, if the lease has a clause indicating pets are allowed and subject to a “pet fee”, the landlord might simply ask for the tenant to pay the fee and any applicable backdated fees from when the cat started living in the unit.

Manage Rental Issues Constructively Without Violating Your Lease

It’s important that you try to handle any issues with your rental property in a constructive way by communicating with your landlord rather than acting vindictively (like refusing to pay rent). You don’t want to be in breach of your rental contract and wind up getting evicted for something that could have been easily avoided with clear correspondence.

It’s also important to read through your lease thoroughly and make sure you understand every clause and term so you don’t wind up unintentionally violating the agreement. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when your landlord walks you through the rental agreement.

Have you ever accidentally breached a lease term?

Posted by Spencer Knight

Spencer Knight is a writer whose nonfiction has appeared in Spinal Columns, The Bolo Tie Collective Anthology: Volume I, and filling Station.