In the state of New Hampshire, a rental agreement is established either in written or oral form. It’s expected that both parties will abide by its terms for the entirety of the tenancy, typically anywhere between 6 months to one year. 

Unfortunately, there are instances where the lease agreement may be broken before the end of the stated tenancy. Notwithstanding your tenant’s good intentions to stay for the entire lease term, situations may arise that force them to end the lease early. 

The reasons for that could range from needing to upsize/downsize to starting an active military career. Now, generally speaking, breaking a lease is a serious violation of the contractual lease or rental agreement and as such, financial penalties are usually owed.

That said, breaking a lease doesn’t always attract penalties for tenants in New Hampshire. There are legally acceptable reasons that can get your tenant off the hook from their contractual lease agreement. 

The following are the 6 legally acceptable reasons for breaking a lease in the state of New Hampshire. 

1. Early Lease Termination Clause

Some leases have early lease termination clauses. The clauses outline the specific terms that a tenant must meet to terminate their lease early. 

Typically, tenants are required to meet two crucial terms, pay a penalty fee and provide ample notice. The penalty fee is usually equivalent to the rent of two months. The fee goes towards helping the landlord re-rent their property. As for the notice, it’s usually one month. 

breaking lease new Hampshire

Once your tenant has met all the requirements specified in the early lease termination clause, they will be free from any further lease obligations. 

2. Active Military Duty 

Tenants who are active service members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The protection comes into place when such a tenant is deployed or receives a permanent change of station. 

The protection starts once the active duty begins and ends anywhere between 30 and 90 days after getting discharged. For a tenant to break the lease, the relief act requires them to do a couple of things, including:

  • Showing proof that they signed the lease before entering active military duty 
  • Showing proof that they intend to remain on active duty for more than 90 days
  • Delivering a written notice to the landlord, alongside the deployment letters from their commanding officer

After meeting all these conditions, the lease will terminate at least 30 days after the next rent period begins. So, suppose the tenant served you the notice on the 13th of April, and rent is normally due on the 1st of every month. This means that the earliest the lease can terminate is June 1st. This means that your tenant will still be liable for paying rent for May. 

The act recognizes Servicemembers as those from the: 

  • Armed Forces
  • Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
  • Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic Commission
  • Activated National Guard. 

lease agreements laws and clauses

3. Habitability Codes 

New Hampshire has specific health and safety codes that provide the minimum standards for rental properties. If your unit doesn’t meet such standards, you’d be considered to have “constructively evicted” your tenant. And at that point, your tenant will have multiple options to pursue, including:

  • Withholding rent payments until the issues causing the unit to be un-inhabitable are fixed by the landlord 
  • Taking legal action for damages resulting from habitability issues
  • Reporting the landlord to a relevant government agency for action
  • Moving out without having further responsibilities under the lease agreement  

The following are examples of issues that can make your rental property fail the minimum habitability standards:

  • The property is infested with pests
  • The plumbing, electrical, or sewage system is defective
  • There is a roof or wall leakage
  • The railings, stairs, or porches aren’t safe or secure
  • There isn’t adequate water or the hot water system isn’t functioning
  • The pilot lights are faulty or the gas lines are leaking
  • The heating system isn’t working as it should

4. Landlord Harassment 

If the action is serious enough, harassing your tenant can also be a legal justification for lease breaking. The following are examples of such actions:

  • Stopping essential services, like electricity
  • Refusing to carry out requested repairs 
  • Sexually harassing your tenant
  • Threatening, coercing, or intimidating your tenant
  • Physical violence

landlord harassment resulting in lease-breaking

  • Illegal eviction is also another form of landlord harassment. It’s illegal to do things like:
  • Locking your tenant out
  • Removing their personal belongings from the rental unit
  • Carrying out the eviction without a court order 
  • Shutting down crucial services to force the tenant out

5. Privacy Violation

In New Hampshire, tenants have a right to be notified before landlord entry. While there is no specific time frame, the law states that landlords must provide “adequate” notice before entering their tenants’ units. What’s more, the reason for the entry must be reasonable. For example:

  • Under court orders
  • To inspect the unit per the lease or rental agreement
  • To show the unit to prospective buyers, lenders, or buyers

The entry times must be within normal business hours, as well. The only exception to this is in case of emergency or as agreed upon with your tenant. 

6. Domestic Violence

Domestic violence victims in New Hampshire have special rental provisions for their protection. The protections are as follows:

  • You must re-key or replace the locks at the request of your tenant. However, your tenant will be liable for the expenses. 
  • The tenant is protected from having their lease terminated unless the reason for you doing so is nonpayment of rent. 

changing the locks

You can require the tenant to provide you proof of the protective court order establishing them as domestic violence victims. 

Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in New Hampshire 

New Hampshire state law doesn’t require landlords to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. 

Summary

These are some of the legally justified reasons a tenant has for breaking their lease early. As a landlord, you should remain up-to-date on these policies as well as ones related to landlord-tenant laws and security deposit laws.

If you would like help drafting a lease or managing your rentals, contact the team at Keyrenter Property Management New England today!

Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a licensed attorney. If you have any questions regarding this content or any other aspect of property management, please get in touch with KeyRenter New England.