Breaking a Lease - What You Need to Know in Colorado

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I find out if I can break my lease?

If you have a written lease, you should read it to determine whether and how you can break your lease. You should also read your lease for the timeline and procedures you need to follow to get out of your lease.   

In most cases, unless your lease specifically allows you to end your tenancy early, you cannot get out of your lease without the landlord's agreement (with a few exceptions, see below). If you move out before the lease ends, the landlord may have a right to collect rent from you until the end of the lease term.

What if my landlord has done something to make it necessary to break my lease?

In general, a tenant is not allowed to terminate (end) the lease because a landlord has failed to make repairs or has otherwise violated the terms of the lease. Usually, the tenant will need to make a written request to the landlord to comply with the lease (comply = do what the lease reads the landlord must do), and, if the landlord fails to do so, the tenant may make the repairs, or remedy (i.e. fix) the landlord’s breach of the lease by suing the landlord for costs the tenant has paid (or obligated him/herself to pay).

If you move out before the lease is over, the landlord’s failure to comply (do what the lease reads s/he will do) with the lease may be a defense against any claim the landlord makes for unpaid rent, but it probably will not keep you from being evicted for failing to pay rent. However, implied in every lease is a Warranty of Habitability that may provide an exception to eviction for nonpayment of rent.  The landlord must comply with a Warranty of Habitability (a condition that interferes with a tenant’s life, health or safety) that is implied in every lease.

Under the warranty of habitability law, the landlord must provide:

1) adequate protection against the weather (doors and windows must be unbroken and be capable of being locked);

2) adequate heating (not including air conditioning);

3) adequate plumbing and water supply;

4) adequate electrical supply and safe wiring;

5) adequate extermination of pests, bugs and other vermin within the premises as well as common areas;

6) safe floors, stairs and railings;

7) remedy bedbug infestation;

8) remedy conditions causing mold associated with dampness or a wet condition which encourages mold growth;
and 
9) adequate trash receptacles.

If the Landlord fails to comply with the Warranty of Habitability law, the Tenant may terminate the lease, if the Tenant follows the proper procedures (described further below).

The tenant must notify the landlord, in writing, either on paper or electronically. The landlord must respond within 24 hours if the condition complained of is an immediate threat to the tenants, health or safety or 96 hours if the condition falls under other conditions that the Warranty of Habitability cover. In some cases, a landlord may do something (or fail to do something) that either makes the premises unfit for occupancy or impossible to enjoy, like not fixing the furnace in winter, or not repairing roof leaks. This is known as “constructive eviction,” and you may vacate the premises within a reasonable time after you let the landlord know, in writing, that the problem exists and the landlord fails to respond and repair the condition. If you believe the condition of the property is dangerous because of the furnace problem (leaking gas or carbon monoxide) or is not providing adequate heat, call your local utility company, building code enforcement office or fire department to determine whether the furnace is dangerous. If they find that a danger exists, they will "red tag" the furnace and require that the landlord immediately make the necessary repairs, and they may order that the property not be unoccupied until the repairs are made.

How can I enforce the Warranty of Habitability?

If the landlord fails to comply with the implied Warranty of Habitability, the tenant may terminate the lease before the end of the lease term if the tenant has followed the proper procedures. The tenant, in the alternative, may seek injunctive relief in any county or district court and withhold rent in the amount of the repair (if the tenant complies with all notice requirements under landlord failed to make repairs timely). In addition, the condition that caused the breach cannot be caused by the tenant or persons under the control of the tenant.

The tenant must give the landlord a written notice of the defect or condition that is a violation of the warranty habitability. The letter must let the landlord know that if the condition is not fixed within a reasonable time (state the time you'd like the repair completed), the tenant will terminate the lease. Once that time has passed, the tenant should give the landlord a second written notice advising the landlord that the condition has not been remedied, and letting the landlord know that the tenant will vacate the property if the repairs have not been made by this specified date (usually ten days after the date of this notice). It is possible that even if you follow the procedure described here in this paragraph, the landlord will try to collect rent from you for the time after you move out. This is why it's very important that you follow the time requirements and document all of your efforts to get the landlord to make the necessary repairs. If you can, it would really help if you take pictures (with dates on them) of the issues or have reliable witnesses who are also aware of the problems. Be sure and keep a copy of all notices including electronic notices.

Can I break my lease if I am in danger due to domestic violence or abuse?

Yes. A law allows victims of domestic violence or abuse fear of imminent danger for themselves or their children. To qualify, you must notify your landlord in writing that you are a victim.

You must also provide evidence of the domestic violence or abuse in the form of a police report written within the last 60 days, or a valid protection order issued by a court.

You will owe one month’s rent after you leave the residence if the landlord has documented loss of rent as a result of your early termination. This payment would be due within 90 days of vacating the premises. The landlord may use your security deposit to pay for the lost rent and/or any other damages that may exist on the property.

Your landlord cannot penalize you for calling the police or other emergency assistance in response to domestic violence.  

Can I just move out before the end of the lease?

If you do not have a solid legal basis for moving out before the end of the lease term, the landlord may successfully sue you for the rent. You could be responsible for rent until the end of the lease term or until the property is rented to someone else, whichever comes first.

The landlord has a duty to try to re-rent the property once you have moved out, but that duty does not start until you have returned the keys to the landlord.

If the landlord re-rents the property, you may only owe the difference between what you were paying as rent and what the new tenant is paying. If the landlord does not make a “diligent effort” to re-rent the property at fair market value, you may not owe rent, but if the landlord makes a diligent effort and fails to re-rent the property, you may owe all the rent from the last day you paid until the end of the lease.

It is always in your interest to negotiate with the landlord to try to reach an agreement for the landlord to let you out of the lease early and, if necessary, for you to pay the landlord something to be released from the lease.

What is the responsibility of the landlord if I move out?

The landlord must try to re-rent the property, at fair market value, as quickly as possible.

In other words, the landlord cannot leave the apartment vacant until your lease expires without trying to re-rent it, and then try to hold you responsible for rent for that entire period.

Once the landlord re-rents the property, the tenant is no longer legally responsible for the rent after the new tenant starts paying rent.

What is the best thing for me to do if I want to leave the property before the end of the lease?

If you would like to move out before the lease expires, it is in your interest to try to re-rent the property.

Try to find someone who is willing to take over your lease.

Allow your landlord to show the property to other prospective tenants.

To avoid future problems, make sure that your landlord agrees to whatever you have arranged before you move out. You should have this agreement in writing.

If I don't want to lease the property anymore, what should I do?

If you need to terminate your tenancy, you should read your lease to be sure you understand exactly what it says. Refer to your lease for the timing of your notice to terminate the lease. Leases state when and how a lease may be terminated and they usually state that a certain amount of written notice is required from the tenant or from the landlord if either party wants to terminate the tenancy.

I am a month-to-month tenant, what will I need to do?

If you are a month-to-month tenant, you must give a written notice to the landlord if you want to move. The type of notice you must give may be specified in your written lease. If you are on a month-to-month continuation of a longer lease, that lease may control how much notice you have to give the landlord before terminating (i.e. ending) the month-to-month tenancy. Make sure you know what your old lease reads, about the required notice, because it may control how much notice you must give, even if you are now on a month-to-month extension of it.

If you have no written lease or the written lease does not specify the type of notice you must give the landlord written notice at least 10 days before the next rent is due. For example, if you want to move out March 31, you must give your landlord notice on or before March 21 that you are moving. The same applies to the landlord, who must give you at least 10 days prior written notice before the end of the month. If you have a tenancy of one month or longer but less than six months, a landlord may only increase the rent upon at least 21 days prior notice to you.

What if I am unable to give enough notice and my landlord does not agree to let me out of my lease early?

Ask your landlord for some options, if any. Try to get your landlord to allow you to move out before the end of your lease. If you are a seasonal resident, you should, as part of your negotiations with the landlord, explain that you will probably be gone after you move out, and the cost and expense of evicting you will probably not be recoverable.

If your landlord agrees, have your landlord sign a written statement that he/she agrees to neutrally rescind or end your tenancy. The written agreement should be signed and dated by both the landlord and tenant.

What should I keep as a record, in case I need to produce it again?

Keep a copy of the lease, any notices you gave to your landlord, and any notices your landlord gave you, including in electronic format such as email or an email attachment.

Can my landlord enter my residence at any time without notice?

Generally not. However, most leases give the landlord the right to enter your residence with reasonable prior notice to make repairs, inspections, and without notice if it is an emergency. If a lanlord (or his agent) walks into your residence without notice, call the police.

This communication is made available by Colorado Legal Services, Inc., (CLS), as a public service and is issued to inform not to advise. No person should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of an attorney. The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the authors and not those of CLS or its funding sources.

If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, consult an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services, 303.837.1313. If you think you may qualify for Colorado Legal Services, go to applyonlinecls.org to complete your application online.

Last Review and Update: February, 2020

 

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