A “Force Majeure” clause excuses duties under a contract because of “acts of god.” These clauses may relieve parties from contract obligations if they are unable to perform due to circumstances outside of the parties’ control, such as extreme weather events, natural disasters, unexpected operations of law or government actions, or strikes. These clauses are often found in a Termination or Miscellaneous sections of a lease, and are sometimes called Impossibility clauses. Sometimes Force Majeure clauses are vague and sometimes they are extremely specific, even listing epidemics or pandemics among the things that could excuse your duties.
BEWARE, however. It is quite common for a Force Majeure clause in a lease to exclude payment of rent from one of the things that could be excused. The clause is also likely to only apply for the period of the emergency -- meaning that even if you have a clause that would allow you off the hook for rent, it would only be until the emergency is over; then you would owe the back rent. If you have a Force Majeure or Impossibility clause, make sure you read it carefully. If you want to see if yours would allow you to walk away from the lease, you should definitely consult an attorney first. Keep in mind, too, that an emergency that excuses the tenant’s obligation to pay rent may also excuse the property owner from performing its obligations under the lease. These clauses are often written to be available equally to both parties to the lease.
Lastly, pay attention to any notice requirements that may be required to invoke the Force Majeure clause, if it applies. If you need to send such notice, we recommend consulting an attorney first.