A lease is a legally binding agreement between a landlord and a tenant. As a landlord, it can be upsetting to learn that your tenant has broken their lease agreement, and understandably so. Vacancies are every North Dakota landlord’s worst nightmare.
Basically, a vacancy means you’re operating your rental property at a loss. In other words, money is going out and none is coming in.
Admittedly, though, there are many reasons that can compel a tenant to break their lease early. Your tenant could be relocating to move closer to their new place of work or school. They could also be upsizing or downsizing, depending on their current needs.
Whether or not to penalize your tenant for moving out early depends on the reason. If it’s legally justified, then you must release them from the contract so long as they serve you the proper notice. However, if their reason isn’t legally justified, then you may be able to penalize them.
Here’s everything you need to know about breaking a lease in North Dakota.
Notice Requirements for Lease Termination in North Dakota
Under North Dakota law, tenants aren’t required to provide any notice for fixed-term leases. They are only required to provide notices for short-term agreements, such as:
- Week-to-week leases. To break this rental agreement, your tenant must provide you a one-week written notice. (§ 47-16-15(1))
- Month-to-month leases. Unless both you and your tenant agree to a longer notice period, your tenant must provide you a one-month notice. (§ 47-16-15(2))
- Yearly lease with no end date. Similar to the month-to-month notice, your tenant must provide you with a one-month written notice. (§ 47-16-15(1))
Common Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in North Dakota
As already mentioned, your tenant may be able to break their lease early without penalty under certain situations.
These situations are as follows:
1. The Lease Contains an Early Termination Clause
Early termination clauses are designed for one purpose: to make lease terminations easier. So, if you have one, your tenant may be able to use it to end their lease, as long as they meet all the requirements.
Common requirements include the payment of a fee (often equivalent to 2 months’ rent) and proper notice (30 days). If your tenant meets such requirements, then they’ll have no further obligations under the lease.
2. The Unit No Longer Meets Habitability Standards
Every state, including North Dakota, provides minimum standards that every rental unit must meet. If you fail to meet them, a court would probably rule that you have “constructively evicted” your tenant. By doing so, your tenant would have no further obligations under the lease. Squatters, of course, don't require these standards nor do they follow a lease to begin with.
North Dakota recognizes the following as habitable conditions:
- Working locks
- Functioning smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
- Safety from fire hazards
- Properly maintained stairways, walls, floors, ceilings, and railings
- Clean and sanitary conditions
- Properly functioning electrical components
- Sufficient heating facilities
- A proper sewage disposal system
- A water supply that ensures the home has safe drinking water
- Working plumbing facilities
- Effective weather protection
3. You Have Violated Your Tenant’s Privacy
Landlords have a right to enter their tenants’ rented premises. They may need to do so in order to:
- Show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers
- Make the necessary repairs
- Enter under court orders
- Inspect the unit for damage
- Enter if your tenant invites you in
- Investigate potential rent violations
- Show the premises to insurance or mortgage companies
- Enter during an emergency
You must, however, give your tenant a reasonable notice prior to entering their apartment. Different states have different requirements in this regard. In the state of North Dakota, there is no specific notice period landlords must give their tenants.
However, state law requires landlords to give their tenants “reasonable” notice prior to entering their rented property.
It also goes without saying that the time of entry must be reasonable. For example, between 8AM and 5PM during weekdays, and between 10AM and 3PM during weekends.
4. You Have Harassed Your Tenant
Your North Dakota tenant can also break their lease if your actions amount to harassment. Landlord harassment can take many forms. The following are the most common ones:
- Refusing to accept rent payments from your tenant
- Intentionally disrupting the peace and quiet enjoyment of their premises
- Refusing to do repairs they have requested within a reasonable time
- Trying to evict your tenant using falsified charges
- Performing unnecessary inspections that are inconvenient to your tenant
- Changing the locks when the tenant is away
- “Constructively” evicting the tenant by shutting off utilities or locking them out
5. Your Tenant Is a Victim of Domestic Violence
Your tenant can also break their lease if they become a domestic violence victim. They have special rental provisions that allow them to do so. Before the tenant can move out, they are required, however, to meet certain requirements.
One requirement is proof of status. They must show you a court order or a qualified restraining order. Another requirement is proper notice. (§ 47-16-17.1)
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in North Dakota
North Dakota landlords must make reasonable steps to try and re-rent their units after their tenant breaks their lease. This helps the loss in income. So, once your tenant moves out, you cannot just sit back and wait until the lease ends and then sue the tenant for all unpaid rent.
Unless there is reason to deduct from the tenant's security deposit for unrelated damages, you will not have any financial compensation.
At the same time, in trying to re-rent the unit, you aren’t required to relax your qualifying standards. For example, renting to a tenant that isn’t creditworthy or has a questionable rental background.
When the breaking of a lease happens, it’s every North Dakota landlord’s last wish. However, when it does occur, it’s important to be aware of the legal conditions.
If you have any questions on breaking a lease in North Dakota or any other aspect of property management, contact TruHome Property Solutions today! We’d be happy to speak with you.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. Laws change from time to time and this blog might not be up to date at the time you read it. If you need further help, please get in touch with a qualified attorney or contact us directly.