Many tenants who sign a New Mexico lease agreement intend to stay for the entire lease term, such as one year. Unfortunately, life and rental laws don’t always coincide. Maybe your parents fell ill and you need to move closer to them. Maybe you met the love of your life and decided to move in together. Or, perhaps you got transferred to another state for work.
Whichever your reason, breaking a lease often places your landlord in a precarious situation. As with any contractual agreement, breaking a lease isn’t without consequences.
Here is what you need to know about breaking a lease in New Mexico.
1. Valid Reasons to Break a Lease in New Mexico
Usually, when you break a lease, you owe the rent for the entire lease term. There are instances, however, when this blanket rule doesn’t apply. As a New Mexico tenant, you’re legally justified to break a lease in the following situations:
Your landlord violates your privacy rights or harasses you
A tenant in New Mexico can break a lease early if the landlord violates their privacy rights or harasses them. Your landlord needs to give you a prior notice before entering the rental property. In New Mexico, the notice shouldn’t be less than 24 hours.
Additionally, the landlord cannot do things like change your locks, turn off your utilities, or remove your windows. It’s illegal and is considered as “constructive eviction.”
A constructive eviction would justify your breaking the lease without further rent obligation.
The rental unit is uninhabitable
Landlords have a duty to provide habitable housing under NM local and housing codes. Given this, you can break a lease early if the rental unit is uninhabitable.
A court would rule that you have been “constructively evicted” and therefore you would have no obligation to continue paying rent.
The specific requirements for the procedures to follow are set out clearly under New Mexico rental law (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 47-8-27.2).
You are beginning active military duty
Under federal law, tenants can break a lease if they are called into active military duty after signing a lease agreement. Before breaking the lease, you must provide your landlord with a 30-day notice. You may also need to show the deployment letter.
After the landlord receives the notice, the tenancy will automatically end 30 days after the date that the next rent payment is due.
New Mexico rental law doesn’t, however, protect all military personnel. It only covers those who are part of the “uniformed services.” They include – the activated National Guard, the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, Commissioned Forces of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Armed Forces.
2. New Mexico Renters Rights and Duties When Signing a Landlord-Tenant Lease
A lease agreement is a legally binding document. When you and your landlord sign one, it means you need to adhere to all its terms. For example, you’re obligated to pay monthly rental fees until the expiry of the lease agreement, whether or not you continue to live in the rental unit. There are some exceptions though.
The landlord on his part, cannot raise the rent or change lease terms until the lease is up. This is assuming the lease doesn’t contain provisions allowing the changes.
Also, the landlord cannot force you to move out before the expiry of the lease. Again, this is assuming you haven’t violated any lease term or failed to make timely rent payments.
3. New Mexico Landlord Responsibilities When a Tenant Breaks a Lease
In New Mexico, if you break your lease and move out without legal justification, your landlord can’t just sit back and wait to file a lawsuit against you after the lease is up.
Under New Mexico landlord-tenant law (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 47-8-6), landlords have a duty to find a new tenant. This means that you may still be off the hook for paying the rent due for the remaining term of the lease.
The law requires that landlords make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit. This way, you won’t pay much if the landlord is successful in his attempts to find a replacement tenant.
In re-renting the unit, landlords don’t have to rent the property below fair market value. They also don’t have to accept a subpar tenant, for example, a tenant whose credit score is poor. The landlord can, however, charge you for any costs related to re-renting the NM rental property.
4. How to Mitigate the Financial Impact Resulting from Breaking a Lease Without a Legal Justification
You can do a couple of things to minimize your financial responsibility. For example, the most obvious thing to do is to provide the landlord with as much notice as possible.
Another thing to do is to offer your landlord a replacement tenant. The tenant, of course, should have excellent references and good credit.
Breaking a lease in NM is a serious matter and unless you have your ducks lined up, it could cost you. Do your homework first by understanding the legal and financial ramifications.