Can you cancel a lease if the landlord doesn’t maintain the property?

lease canceling

The usual scenario is that a landlord advertises his property for rent. Prospective tenants view the property. If they like it, and the price is right, they enter into a lease agreement. The lease agreement will specify, amongst other things, the monthly rental and how long the lease will endure for. But what if, along the way, the property suffers some form of deterioration that materially detracts from the tenant’s living conditions? Is the landlord responsible for maintaining the leased property? Is the tenant entitled to terminate the lease and move out?

It is important to understand that an agreement of lease is a two-way street:

  • The landlord owns the property. But use and enjoyment of the property is given to the tenant for the duration of the lease.
  • The tenant pays the landlord an agreed rental in exchange for use and enjoyment of the rented property.

In exchange for receiving the rental payment, the landlord has a duty to transfer possession of a property that is in a reasonably habitable condition and allows the tenant undisturbed use. In addition, the landlord has a duty to maintain the property in the same reasonably habitable condition. If the property falls into such a state of disrepair that occupation becomes intolerable, the tenant would have a strong argument for early termination. But bear in mind the following:

  • This depends on the terms of the lease agreement, and the rights and obligations placed on both the landlord and the tenant;
  • If the tenant (or, by extension, their friends, family, guests, helpers or pets) was responsible for the deterioration in the property (aside from fair wear and tear) then the tenant would probably be responsible for the repairs;
  • The tenant would first need to notify the landlord that the property needs maintenance. If the landlord doesn’t attend to the maintenance even after receiving a written demand from the tenant in the manner set out in the lease agreement, then the tenant would most likely be entitled to cancel the lease and move out.

Alternatively, if there’s any doubt as to whether the landlord is responsible for the maintenance in question, the tenant may consider invoking the Consumer Protection Act and giving 20 business days’ notice of cancellation of the lease. But in this instance the tenant may also become liable to pay a cancellation penalty.

Ultimately, what is important is that the landlord and tenant sign a Lease Agreement that is clear on the maintenance obligations. Clearly if the tenant caused it, the tenant repairs it. And if there’s a major maintenance issue that renders the property virtually uninhabitable that the tenant had nothing to do with, then the landlord repairs it. But problems come in with the interpretation of the grey areas in between. So make sure you have an agreement of lease  in place that addresses maintenance obligations.

Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.

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