Q: If my landlord never fixes things in my apartment, can I get out of my lease agreement early?
A: Yes, but you need to take certain steps before you can terminate the lease. Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.07) allows you to terminate your rental agreement and move out if you have:
1) notified the landlord of the problems in writing (best done by writing a letter to your landlord specifying what needs to be remedied, keeping a photocopy of the letter, and sending it with a certificate of mailing);
2) waited a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to make the repairs (what is “reasonable” depends on the severity of the problem and the time necessary to make repairs, e.g., a reasonable time for a broken furnace to be repaired in winter might be a day or two, and in no case should any repair take more than 30 days), and the problems still have not been remedied; and
3) stayed current with your rent payments (you cannot terminate your lease or start a rent escrow account unless your rent payments are current).
Note: This law does not apply to 1) a dwelling unit occupied by a student tenant or 2) any landlord who is a party to rental agreements that cover three or fewer dwelling units AND provides the tenant with notice of that fact in the lease or other writing at the start of the tenancy.
Helpful tip: If you are going to terminate the lease for the landlord’s failure to make repairs, it is a good practice to write a second letter to the landlord, advising the landlord that you are terminating the lease due to the failure to make repairs, and advising the landlord of the date you will be moving out. Keep a photocopy of the letter and send it with a certificate of mailing. You will be responsible for rent for the days that you stay there, but not for any day after you have vacated.
Q: Can I end my lease agreement if my apartment building has code violations? How can I find out if there are violations?
A: Codes are local laws (often part of a municipal code) with detailed housing, building, health and safety requirements. If you contact your city’s code enforcement office or health department, a code enforcement officer will inspect the property and order the owner of your building to remedy any code violations. As a tenant, you will likely get a copy of the notice of code violations found at your property. If the code enforcement officer finds violations that could materially affect your health or safety, you can take the steps outlined above to end your lease agreement.
Q: There aren’t any problems with my apartment, but if I want to move a few months before my lease is over, do I have to pay rent until the end of the lease term?
A: Yes; you will be responsible for the balance of the lease term. However, your landlord is obligated to try to find a new tenant (by advertising the apartment, for example). The landlord can’t just let the apartment stay empty just because you’re continuing to pay until the lease ends. If, however, your landlord makes reasonable efforts to rent the place, and finds no new renter, then the landlord could file a lawsuit against you, seeking money for the balance of the lease term.
Q: Can I get out of my lease because my personal circumstances have changed?
A: Not unless your lease includes language that allows you to get out of your lease early. Some landlords will include provisions that allow either party to terminate a lease with a certain amount of advance notice. If there is nothing in your lease that allows you to get out of your lease early, talk with your landlord about working out a solution.
Q: If my landlord agrees to terminate my lease, for whatever reason, is there anything more I should do?
A: Get the agreement in writing and keep a photocopy for your records. Also, whenever moving out of a place you rent, you should do the following: 1) take pictures or video of each room of the unit after you have moved out your belongings and cleaned the unit; 2) provide your landlord with a forwarding address so the landlord knows where to mail your security deposit; 3) return the keys (the official act of moving out).
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Benjamin D. Horne of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.