A fairly common question we get is, if a tenant moves into an apartment and within a day realizes she made a mistake, or perhaps finds that the apartment is overrun with cockroaches or has some other problem, does she have a window within which she can cancel the contract. The general answer to this question is no. There’s no “grace period” under landlord/tenant law within which you can back out of a lease.
However, this does not mean she’s stuck. The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is very weak in comparison with tenants’ rights laws in other states, mainly because it does not allow you to hold back the rent under most circumstances or use more than a minimal amount of rent (half a month’s) to make repairs. However, it does give tenants the right to terminate their leases for a variety of landlord misconduct, both substantive, such as cockroach infestation (A.R.S. §§ 33-1324(A); 33-1361(A)), or technical, for example, failure to register with the County Assessor (A.R.S. § 33-1902). Therefore, even though the tenant cannot simply break her contract based on some window of time, she can invoke one of the many sections of the landlord/tenant act to get out of her lease.
One of the interesting aspects of this is that very often the grounds the tenant cites for terminating her lease are not the actual reason she wants to do so. Sometimes there isn’t a remedy for the tenant’s particular problem, but there are demands she can make which, if the landlord does not comply, she can terminate her lease based on his noncompliance. In the case above, the tenant might be able to get out of the lease by claiming constructive failure to deliver possession if there is a particularly bad cockroach problem (A.R.S. § 33-1362), or maybe the landlord didn’t register his apartment with the County Assessor and she lives in one of the cities where termination on this basis is immediate rather than tied to a ten day notice period. The process of terminating a lease is very technical and is not something you should try without getting professional help. I actually pioneered this process long before I was the Director of ATU; I first developed it (in conjunction with another person) in Chicago in the early 1990’s, and then adapted it for Arizona, whose landlord/tenant act was based upon the same principles as Chicago. I’ve been refining the actual practice of helping tenants terminate their leases for over 20 years.