Leases may be terminated by any one of the following events:
(a) Expiration of term of lease.
(b) Surrender and acceptance, either express or implied.
(c) Breach of conditions of the lease.
(d) Constructive eviction of the tenant.
(e) Exercise of right of eminent domain.
(f) Destruction of property.
It has already been noted that leases for years end on the last day of their term without notice and that monthly tenancies and tenancies at will are self-renewing or continuing until notice of termination has been given. Prior to the end of the term of a lease the tenant may offer to surrender possession of the premises to the landlord and if such offer is accepted the lease is terminated. This may be done verbally even though the lease be written as the act of the landlord in taking possession shows that the obligations under the lease have ended. If a lease has been recorded it is advisable to have the surrender agreement reduced to writing, signed, acknowledged and recorded.
The surrender of a lease and the acceptance of the surrender may be implied by the acts of the parties. The mere quitting or abandonment of the premises by the tenant and re-entry by the landlord, even though nothing be said, may be construed to be such an implication. To avoid the danger of the landlord accepting a surrender against his will or intention, it is advisable to have the lease so drawn that the landlord may, to protect the property, re-enter as the agent of the tenant.
A breach of conditions may terminate the lease. The conditions of a lease may be divided into two classes, those for which the landlord can dispossess the tenant by summary proceeding and those for which he cannot bring summary proceedings.
Summary or dispossess proceedings can only be brought for (a) non-payment of rent, (b) holding over at end of the term, (c) for unlawful use of the premises, (d) for nonpayment of taxes and assessments when under the terms of the lease the tenant undertook to pay them, (e) when the tenant takes the benefit of an insolvent act or is adjudged a bankrupt, provided his lease was made for a term of three years or less. For breach of other conditions of a lease possession can be obtained only by means of a lengthy and expensive ejectment action. An important lease, however, if properly drawn, will contain provisions which will bring every condition and covenant into the class for which summary dispossess may be obtained. (Appendix: form 69.) It will provide that additional charges, such as taxes, insurance premiums, water charges, expenses of repairs and alterations; in fact anything for which settlement is made in money, and for which the tenant is liable, may be paid by the landlord and the sum so paid become additional rent. The lease will also provide that the term is conditioned upon performance of the covenants and conditions on the part of the tenant and this provision will give the landlord the right to notify the tenant that he elects to end the term of the lease at a fixed time. In other words, there is a "conditional limitation" on the term. The failure of the tenant to pay the charges which have become additional rent, or the holding over of the tenant after termination under the landlord's option because of breach of conditions, permits the landlord to obtain possession through the ordinary dispossess proceeding.
Constructive eviction occurs when the leased premises become in such a physical condition, due to some act or omission of the landlord, that the tenant is unable to occupy them for the purpose intended. No claim of constructive eviction will be allowed unless the tenant actually removes from the premises. If he so removes and can prove his case, the lease is terminated. He may also be able to recover damages for the landlord's breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
There may be eviction of this kind from a portion of the premises only, but as a lease is an entire contract, the tenant can take advantage of this and remove from the entire premises, or he can retain possession of the remainder and refuse to pay rent until restored to possession of the entire premises.
The tenant's contention of constructive eviction must rest upon some act or omission of the landlord by which the tenant was deprived of the use of the property for the purpose or in the manner contemplated by the lease. The erection by the landlord of a building on adjoining property as a result of which the tenant's light was diminished would not be constructive eviction, but the storage of materials on the sidewalk in front of the tenant's premises for a period of time may interfere with his use of the premises to such an extent that constructive eviction could be proved. Failure of the landlord to furnish steam heat or other facility contemplated by the lease usually amounts to constructive eviction.
When leased property is taken for public purposes under the right of eminent domain, leases on it terminate. The tenant is given an opportunity to prove the value of the unexpired term of his lease in the proceeding under which the property is taken and may receive an award for it.
While under the common law the destruction of a building by fire or otherwise would not terminate a lease, nor relieve the tenant of his liability to pay rent, practically all of the States have passed laws which provide that in case of the destruction of the entire property, the tenant may remove immediately after the destruction and the lease is thereupon terminated.