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About a month ago, I signed a lease for an apartment (with two roommates who are renewing their lease) in North Carolina with a move-in date of May 15th. I'm a STEM graduate student, and with developing family finance concerns and the recent transition to remote everything both teaching and research related, I'm beginning to think it may not makes sense to drain so much of my income to stay near a closed university rather than move in with my brother.

To my reading, the lease agreement states that breaking with more than 6 months remaining will incur a penalty of 2 months' rent. Were I to attempt to back out in the next few days (well before the move-in date), could I expect the current national or state declaration of a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic to impact my penalty? In particular, is there any legal reason to expect that, due to the state of emergency, I could avoid the penalty altogether?

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In general, you are not freed of contractual obligations if your circumstances change, whether that is because of economic downturn / unemployment, weather, or disease. If there is a clause in the lease saying "this lease can be voided if tenant {becomes unemployed / contracts a disease....}" then that could cover your circumstances (I would be stunned if there were such a clause). There is a separate question, whether an exemption might arise if the government forbids you to move. The existence of a legal "state of emergency" has limited implications for legal rights and obligations – mostly, it empowers the government to restrict your rights. There is no effect on your responsibilities.

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  • the “separate question” has the same answer - even if the OP was prevented by government action from taking possession, they still have to pay the rent. – Dale M Mar 22 '20 at 20:53

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