Breaking a Lease in South Carolina | 📝 What You Need to Know in SC [2023]

When you signed your South Carolina rental agreement, you didn’t expect circumstances that would force you to move out early. You may not be able to afford your rent anymore, need to move for work, or maybe you are buying a house and plan to close before the lease expires.

As you prepare to relocate, you probably have a lot of questions. What happens if I need to break my lease? Does breaking a rental lease affect your credit? Is breaking a lease in SC expensive?

Fortunately, there are ways to end an apartment lease early and avoid serious consequences. However, these options are limited and you may be stuck paying penalties to get out of the lease agreement early. Here’s how to get out of a lease in SC and everything you need to know about your rights as a tenant and how to reduce the impact.

South Carolina Lease Laws – Tenant Rights & Responsibilities When Signing a Lease in SC

South Carolina is a landlord-friendly state with laws that benefit landlords in terms of SC lease agreements, evictions, and more. The law does not place limits on the early termination fee a landlord may set (or require one), and it allows landlords to file an eviction lawsuit within just five days of nonpayment.

However, landlords and tenants both have rights and responsibilities when a South Carolina lease agreement is signed.

As a tenant, you are obligated to pay rent for the entire term of your lease, even if you do not live there, with very few exceptions. Tenants have a legal duty to keep their unit reasonably safe and clean, dispose of rubbish, use appliances and systems like plumbing in a reasonable manner, and not destroy and damage any part of the premises intentionally or through negligence.

Your landlord cannot raise your rent or change lease terms (unless allowed by the lease) until the lease expires. You cannot be forced to leave until your lease ends unless you fail to pay rent or violate a major term of your lease.

Your landlord is responsible for complying with health and safety codes, performing repairs as needed to keep the premises in habitable condition, and ensure the electrical, gas, plumbing, heating, hot water, sanitary, air conditioning, and ventilating systems are in working order.

Even if you fail to pay rent or violate the lease terms, SC landlords must follow strict procedures to end your tenancy. The landlord has the right to immediately file for eviction five days after nonpayment if stated clearly in the lease. Otherwise, you must be given 5 days’ notice to pay or leave before an eviction can be filed.

What Happens if You Break a Lease in South Carolina? – Consequences of Breaking a Lease

If you don’t have an acceptable legal reason for early termination of a lease agreement, you will still be responsible for rent for the remainder of your lease or until the landlord finds a new tenant.

South Carolina Code § 27-40-730(c) requires landlords to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant and re-rent the unit instead of charging you for the remaining rent owed. This is called mitigating damages. However, the landlord does not need to lower their standards or reduce the rent price.

If your landlord finds a new tenant quickly, you can still count on being out an extra month’s rent if your landlord takes you to small claims court. Judges frequently award landlords at least one month’s rent for early lease termination, even if the unit is rented very quickly.

The following are possible consequences of breaking a lease in SC.

  • It may be hard to rent another apartment. When another prospective landlord checks your credit and rental history or asks for references, they may see that you broke your lease before. This can show up as a judgment or collections account. They may decide not to take the risk.
  • You will owe rent for the remainder of your lease term. While your landlord has a duty to find a new tenant as soon as they can, there is no guarantee this will happen quickly. Until a new tenant is found, you are responsible for the rent for every month remaining on your lease.
  • You can be sued for the remaining rent. Your landlord can sue you if you do not pay the remaining rent you are owed. You can potentially be ordered to pay not only your outstanding rent but also your landlord’s legal costs.
  • A judgment can be issued against you. Your landlord will likely win their case against you in court without legal cause for breaking your lease. You may have the option of making a payment plan or a judgment can be issued.
  • Your credit may be damaged. If your landlord decides to turn your debt over to a collection agency, the collection account will appear on your credit. More likely, your landlord will sue you and receive a judgment which will also appear on your credit report.

If your lease has an early termination clause, it may be worth using it to avoid these consequences in exchange for a penalty fee. The penalty fee may be high, but you won’t risk owing rent for the rest of the term or having trouble renting a new home.

How to Get Out of a Lease in SC – Options for Breaking a Lease in SC Without Penalty

There are limited options for breaking a lease in South Carolina without penalty. You can’t break your lease because you bought a home or want to move in with a partner. Breaking a lease due to disability or breaking an apartment lease due to job transfer are also not excusable reasons.

Here is how to break a lease in SC and avoid potentially costly consequences.

You Have an Early Termination of Lease Clause

Read your lease carefully. Do you have a clause that allows you to terminate your lease early in exchange for paying a penalty? If you cannot use any of the reasons below for breaking a lease early in South Carolina, this may be your best option.

The clause should state the amount of any fee that must be paid and how much notice you are required to give, such as 30 days’ notice. The penalty may be hefty, such as one or two months’ rent, but it does end your responsibility to pay for the rental. Otherwise, you will be on the hook for the rent until the landlord finds a new tenant.

Your Rental Unit Violates Health or Safety Codes (Constructive Eviction)

One of the most frequent reasons for breaking a lease in SC without penalty is constructive eviction due to unsafe or unlivable conditions. This means that when a landlord fails to provide a property that is suitably safe and livable, a court can find they have essentially evicted you and you are no longer responsible for the rent.

The South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act has clear guidelines on how to get out of a lease in SC due to health and safety violations. The violation must be serious, and you are required to follow specific protocols.

Note that this option to terminate your South Carolina rental agreement early only applies to issues that are serious and/or affect the health and safety of you or a family member. Serious habitability issues may include:

  • Running hot and cold water
  • Working electrical wiring, lighting, and outlets
  • Working plumbing
  • Working gas lines used for cooking or heating
  • Working sanitation facilities including toilets and showers or bathtubs
  • Working heating and cooling
  • Waterproofed walls and roof without serious leaks
  • Doors and windows in good repair
  • Safe railings and stairs in multi-family properties
  • Serious mold and/or pest infestations

If safety and livability standards are not met, you must give proper notice to your landlord. If the landlord does not make repairs or correct the problem within the allowable time, you are considered constructively evicted.

Be sure you provide written notice that is dated with proof of delivery to protect yourself if the landlord claims they were never told. You can even follow up the written notice with text messages or email to show correspondence. Your notice should clearly list the problems that need to be fixed and state that you will move out if the issues are not corrected.

If the violation affects your health or safety, the landlord is required to make repairs as soon as possible.

If the violation is not a threat to your health and safety, but serious enough that it can’t be reasonably fixed within 14 days, the landlord must begin making repairs within 14 days, at a minimum, and finish them as soon as reasonably possible.

Under the South Carolina lease termination law, only when the landlord fails to make repairs within 14 days of notice can you move without consequences.

Your Landlord Violated Your Privacy or Harassed You (Constructive Eviction)

If your landlord commits serious or repeated violations of your privacy or harasses you, it can be enough to be considered constructive eviction. Landlords must abide by certain rules regarding entry, possession, and access of your home.

Your landlord is required to give you 24 hours’ notice before entering your home and only enter at reasonable hours. There are limited exceptions to the 24 hours’ notice including in case of emergency and to provide requested or regularly scheduled services which require announcing the intent to enter.

Your landlord cannot abuse this right of access or use it to harass you.

A landlord is also forbidden from changing the locks and locking out tenants. This can qualify as constructive eviction.

You Are Entering Active Military Duty

You have the right to break your lease in South Carolina if you need to move due to a permanent change of station or deployment as an active military member. To use this protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, you must have signed your lease before you entered active duty. You must give your landlord written notice and a copy of your orders. You must also be entering active duty for 90+ days.

If you follow these guidelines, your lease is not terminated right away, but it can be ended as soon as 30 days starting at the beginning of the next rental period.

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Stalking (Only PBV and Section 8 HCV Participants & Tenants)

If you live in public housing or use a housing choice voucher, you may have protection under the Violence Against Women Act in case of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

The act provides several forms of protection including the right to move if necessary for your safety. In this case, moving in violation of your lease would terminate the Housing Assistance Payment Contract and the lease would be terminated automatically.

South Carolina lawmakers sponsored a bill in 2019 that would allow all tenants to get out of a lease in SC without penalty due to sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence, but the bill has not yet passed.

Tips to Reduce the Cost of Breaking Your Lease

Even though you are responsible for the remainder of the rent under your lease, there are still ways to reduce the financial impact of breaking a SC lease agreement.

  • Offer to help your landlord find a new tenant.
  • Give your landlord as much notice as possible. Your landlord has a duty to mitigate damages and find a new tenant as soon as they can reasonably do so. The more notice, the easier this will be!
  • Check your lease to see if you can sublet it. You may need your landlord’s permission.
  • Have a discussion with your landlord and explain your situation. By being honest, offering to help if possible, and providing as much notice as you can, your landlord may be willing to work with you and even let you out of your lease.

Breaking a lease early in South Carolina can be costly, but it’s not a guarantee. As soon as you know you will be moving, review your lease for an early termination clause and the legal grounds for terminating your lease. If these options aren’t available, talk to your landlord to discuss your situation and ways to reduce the impact of breaking your lease.

Are you preparing to break a lease in SC to buy a home, move closer to work, or even leave the area? While we can’t help with the legal complexities of lease termination, we can help by handling the hard work and logistics of the move itself! Call HD Auston Moving Systems to discuss your move and how we can help.

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