The majority of tenants who sign a lease agreement plan to stay for the entire lease term. But despite your good intentions, life may force you to leave before the lease is up.
In some cases, the law is on your side – for instance, moving to a retirement home, fleeing domestic violence or enlisting for military duty. However, in other cases, despite the reasons being completely justified, the South Carolina rental law may be against you. For example, moving because you are pregnant, moving for a new job or moving in with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Whichever the reason, breaking a lease in South Carolina is considered a breach of contract. A breach of contract often makes for a complex legal matter. If you’re a tenant in South Carolina contemplating breaking a lease, this article is especially for you.
Tenant Rights and Duties When Signing a Lease in South Carolina
The 1986 South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act governs landlord and tenant transactions within the state. Under the act, it’s illegal for a landlord to increase rent or alter other lease terms. The landlord can only raise the rent if the lease itself allows it or if the lease expires.
The act also prohibits landlords from forcing a tenant to move out before the end of the lease term. This is, however, assuming that you are making timely rent payments and you haven’t violated any terms of the lease agreement.
But even in cases where you have violated the terms of the SC rental agreement, the landlord is still required to follow specific procedures to end the tenancy. The landlord can’t just throw you out using self-help eviction methods. It’s blatantly against SC eviction laws.
On your part, you’re required to make monthly rent payments for the entire term of the lease regardless of whether you live in the unit or not.
Breaking a Lease in South Carolina Without Any Legal or Financial Penalties
1. Your landlord violates your privacy rights
In South Carolina, landlords must give you notice before they enter your rental unit. The notice shouldn’t be given in less than 24 hours. A landlord can only enter your rental unit for specific reasons, unless:
- You have abandoned the property
- There is an emergency
- You have given the landlord permission to enter
In South Carolina, the Residential Tenancies Act allows the landlord to enter a tenant’s property in the following situations:
- Showing the property to potential renters
- Showing the property to potential buyers
- Pest control
- To make repairs to the unit
- To inspect the state of repair of the unit
2. Your landlord harasses you
South Carolina rental laws state it is illegal for the landlord to change your locks, turn off your utilities, or remove your windows. In legal terms, if you choose to leave, this is referred to as a “constructive eviction.”
3. The rental unit does not adhere to local health or safety codes
You can end a South Carolina rental agreement early if the landlord fails to provide habitable housing. A habitable house is one that is safe and adheres to health and safety codes. A judge would rule that you have been constructively evicted if your landlord doesn’t provide habitable housing.
4. You are beginning active military duty
If you belong to a certain group of “uniformed services” and have entered active military service, you can break a lease in South Carolina. The War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. § § 501 and following protects the following uniformed services: the activated National Guard, Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Armed Forces.
You need to write a notice of intent to the landlord explaining your reason for moving out early. Once the notice is delivered, your tenancy will end 30 days after the date of the due rent.
How to Minimize Your Financial Responsibility When Breaking a Lease
There are a couple of things you can do to minimize your financial responsibility when breaking your lease is not legally justified. Here, the goal is to get the smallest penalty possible.
1. Check to see if your lease contains an early termination clause
If it does, you are in luck. You may be better off paying for an early termination lease penalty than paying for the total rent due under the lease.
Some leases prohibit subletting. But if yours doesn’t, you need to find someone who is completely trustworthy and reliable. This is because subletting doesn’t free you from your responsibility as the renter. You will still be accountable until the lease expires.
3. Find something wrong
You may find that your landlord has breached a lease term. In such a case, you may be able to get out of the lease without incurring any penalty.
For example, the property is in dire need of repair and the landlord has failed to fix it. Other reasons could be the landlord promised to replace the carpeting, add more insulation before winter, or install a fence last summer and never followed through.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in South Carolina
You may still be off the hook for paying the remainder of the rent due under the lease even if you don’t have a legal justification to break your lease. This is because your landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit.
The South Carolina landlord-tenant law requires that you only pay part of the rent due for the remaining lease term. Being that the landlord will subtract the rent received from the new tenant from the amount you owe.
In re-renting the unit, landlords don’t have to accept just any tenant. For instance, a tenant whose credit score is poor may not be eligible. The landlord also doesn’t have to rent the property below fair market value. The landlord can, however, charge you for any costs related to re-renting the rental unit. For example, the costs of advertising and tenant screening.
Breaking a lease is a breach of contract. It often bears serious legal and financial penalties. Before you break a lease, it’s recommended you consult with a professional. At Leasing & Management, we specialize in Charleston area real estate and property management, so if you need any help with your rental property contact us today!