There are certain instances under New Mexico landlord-tenant law where tenants will need to break their lease early. A lease agreement, however, is a legally binding document running for a set period. Therefore, breaking it often comes with certain financial and legal repercussions. There are, however, some exceptions to this blanket rule.
In New Mexico, the handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break their lease without penalty and lease the property are as follows:
Legally Justified Reasons for Breaking a Lease in New Mexico
The Lease Agreement has an Early Termination Clause
Does the lease agreement have an early termination clause? If it does, then your tenant may use it to break their lease. Usually, such clauses allow tenants to break their lease under two primary conditions.
One is to provide proper written notice. It requires that the tenant serve the landlord a 30 days notice before terminating their lease. The other condition involves payment of a fee, usually the equivalent of 2 months’ rent.
The New Mexico Tenant is Starting Active Military Duty
Is your tenant a service member and is starting an active military career? Or, have they been in service but have received deployment letters?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act gives certain protections to such tenants. The protection begins on the day they enter active duty and ends between 30-90 days after getting discharged.
In the state of New Mexico, Servicemembers are defined to be members belonging to:
- The Activated National Guard
- Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Armed forces
- Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
The act requires tenants to break the lease following its provisions. Which, requires the tenant to:
- Show proof that they started renting the home before entering active duty.
- Show proof that they will be on active duty for at least the next three months.
- Provide proof of their deployment from their commanding officer.
Once this proof is provided, does the lease terminate immediately? No, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the next rent period starts. For instance, if the tenant delivered the notice on the 25th of April, and the next rent is due on the 1st of May, the earliest the lease can terminate is June 1st. In other words, the tenant will still be liable for paying rent for April.
The Unit has Failed to Meet Habitability Standards
New Mexico requires landlords to maintain their rental units to specific health, safety, and structural codes. If you’re unable to meet them, your tenant would technically be considered “constructively evicted.”
In property law, constructive eviction is defined as actions taken by a landlord to interfere with their tenant’s use and enjoyment of their rented premises. To avoid this, always make sure your rental unit:
- Complies with all habitability codes for health, safety, and structure
- Is pest-free
- Has common areas that are always clean and sanitary
- Functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Has drinkable water
- Has heat and hot water during winter
- Is in good condition, and that issues are tended-to quickly
You are Harassing Your Tenant
A landlord won’t always get along with their tenant. However, a landlord is required to treat their renters with respect at all times. The following actions are not permitted:
- Withholding amenities that your tenant is entitled to
- Failing to perform repairs or maintenance within a reasonable period
- Purposely creating conditions that cause your tenant emotional distress
- Imposing an illegal rent increase
- Sexually harassing your tenant
- Carrying out an illegal eviction
- Refusing to acknowledge a rent payment
If you engage in any of those actions they could be classified as landlord harassment and your tenant can file a civil lawsuit against you for damages and for an injunction requiring you to stop the behavior. Alternatively, they can choose to break their lease and move out.
You have Violated Your Tenant’s Privacy
Renters have a right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their rented premises. Therefore, violating this right may offer them enough ground to quit the lease.
In New Mexico, tenants have a right to be notified before landlord entry. A landlord must provide their tenant with notice at least 24 hours before entering their rented premises. The only exceptions to this are:
- When entering to perform repairs or services that have been requested by your tenant within the past 7 days
- When the owner is accompanied by a public official that is conducting an inspection
- In case of an emergency
- When the owner is accompanied by a representative of a gas, telephone, electric, or cable television company
The Tenant is a Victim of Domestic Violence
Renters who are victims of domestic violence in New Mexico have certain rental provisions for their protection. Chief among these provisions is the protection against lease termination. Tenants who are facing eviction can use their domestic violence status as a defense to stop their eviction.
Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in New Mexico
Some reasons don’t generally offer enough justification on their own to release a tenant from their lease obligations. And as a result, they provide zero protection against penalties for failure to honor the lease. These include:
- Moving to the new house they bought
- Moving in with a partner
- Relocating for a new job or school
- Moving to get closer to friends and family
- Moving to a larger or smaller house
Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in New Mexico
New Mexico landlords are required to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit after their tenant breaks their lease.
Renters may need to break their lease early, but it’s important to understand when they have a legally justified reason for doing so and when they don’t. What’s more, as a landlord it’s important to remain informed of the state’s landlord-tenant laws, security deposit laws, squatters’ rights, and more.
If you’re a landlord and would like help keeping your rentals legally compliant or managing your properties in general, contact a property manager in Rio Rancho today.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for expert legal advice. Laws change and this content may not reflect those changes at the time you’re reading it.