A lease is a legally binding agreement that states you will continue to pay rent on a home or apartment until the lease agreement ends. But there are times and situations when it may be in your best interest to move out early, leaving you in a potentially sticky situation.
(Side note: If you’re planning to move soon, we can help you get quick, personalized quotes from top movers.)
Before you decide to end your lease term prematurely, there are a few steps you can take to try and mitigate the situation and lessen any negative impact as much as possible.
Here are a few things we suggest doing before breaking your house or apartment lease.
Breaking a Lease: How To Do It and What To Know Before
Breaking a lease can be an intimidating process. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but other times you may have options. Here’s what to know before breaking a lease and tips on how to do it.
Read your rental agreement
Reading your rental agreement is one of the first essential steps you must take when considering an early lease termination. And don’t just peruse it, either; be sure to read it word-for-word.
If you need to read through it multiple times, do so. If you need to read through it with the help of a real estate attorney, do so. Protecting your rights and avoiding any legal trouble or termination fees (when possible) is of the utmost importance.
The lease should describe any possible penalties you could incur for breaking it. Be on the lookout for keywords like “sublet,” “relet,” and “early release.” Bookmark where those words appear so you can quickly access them later.
Many leases explain certain requirements that must be fulfilled if you intend to break the lease before it expires. For example, you might need to give the landlord 60-90 days’ notice before moving out. Make sure to provide this as a written notice so there’s tangible evidence of the conversation.
You might also be responsible for finding someone to move in after you’ve moved out to take over the remainder of your lease. Knowing and understanding the exact terms of your lease before breaking it is vital.
Have a conversation with your landlord
Don’t be afraid to talk things over with your landlord. It can’t hurt to sit down and ask questions or explain your situation, especially if extenuating circumstances are what’s forcing you to break your agreement. If you’ve been a good renter, your landlord might be willing to be more flexible and accommodating.
They are human, after all, and if you’re open and honest with them, it’s reasonable to expect them to be understanding. Providing the proper amount of notice when breaking a lease can also work wonders for your situation.
The landlord might be more likely to grant your request to exit your lease if you find a replacement tenant to take over the remainder.
Read the fine print and now you’re ready to break your lease and move? Get quotes from multiple moving companies to make the next step easier.Learn More
Find a New Renter
Most states require the landlord to make a reasonable effort to find a new renter when a lease is broken. But if you’re willing to help with this process, it can leave a more positive impression on your landlord while lessening any outstanding rent you’ll owe. Finding a new tenant can be done in two ways: re-renting and subletting.
This process involves the landlord publicly listing the apartment for rent, showing it to prospective renters, and having the new renter pay a security deposit. The replacement renter will also sign a new lease agreement with the landlord.
This process involves either you or the property owner finding someone to take over the remainder of your current lease so you can break from it. The new renter will sign a sublease agreement with the landlord, but the original lease will remain in your name.
This means you’ll still be responsible if the subletter fails to pay the rent or for any damage they cause to the apartment. The security deposit you paid the landlord will be returned to you at your landlord’s discretion once your original lease agreement expires.
Explore the terms and conditions of early termination
Every lease features an early termination clause that explains what to do if a new renter isn’t found to sublet or re-rent your apartment. Some lease termination conditions might require you to pay two or three months’ rent and/or allow the landlord to keep your security deposit.
If you’ve had a good relationship with your landlord, they may ask for something less punishing, like only an additional month’s rent. Either way, speaking with your landlord to clarify your options and what exactly they expect from you is always a good idea.
Ask for everything in writing
Ask your landlord to physically write everything down when discussing the terms of breaking your rental unit’s lease. This is especially important if any monetary fine or compensation is involved. This will protect both of you down the road.
Know when you’re legally able to break a lease without repercussions
No matter where you live, there are exceptions for breaking a lease that ensure your ability to do so without financial ramifications or the burden of finding a new renter. The legal justifications for breaking a lease without penalty are as follows:
The property isn’t maintained
If your landlord has failed to maintain the property or to make any reasonable efforts to do so, you should be able to break the lease without issue. Landlords or rental property managers are legally required to provide tenants with habitable properties by doing the following:
- Making repairs
- Providing running water at all times
- Cleaning the common areas
- Placing trash receptacles throughout the building
- Following all health and safety codes
If the property’s habitability is compromised, you may be entitled to break your lease without any consequences.
You’re called up to active military duty
Members of the armed forces are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which allows them to break a lease early if their orders require moving. It’s worth noting that this only applies to military members who are relocating for at least 90 days. To qualify for protection under the act, the military service member must provide 30 days’ notice to their landlord.
For more information, check out our complete military moving guide for active and former service members.
You’re a victim of domestic violence
Many states legally permit victims of domestic violence to exit their lease agreements early. To break the lease without incurring penalties, the following must apply:
- The act that led to domestic violence had to have occurred in the previous three to six months.
- You must provide your landlord with written notice that you want to break the lease because of a domestic violence incident.
- This notice must be provided at least 30 days prior to moving out of the rental property.
You live in an illegal rental property
Throughout the country, various building codes govern which types of properties can legally be rented. For example, many states regulate basements rented out as apartments.
If you live in an illegal apartment, you have the ability to terminate your lease without facing negative consequences. You may even be entitled to financial assistance in seeking a new (legal) rental unit and/or at least partial reimbursement for the rent you’ve paid over the course of your lease.
The lease itself was illegal
If a lease contains significant illegal or grossly unfair clauses or if the landlord was never given the legal right to rent the property in the first place, the lease itself could be illegal. If so, you have every right to break it without being penalized.
Your landlord illegally entered the property
For the most part, a landlord or management company must provide a tenant with at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the rental property. Landlords are legally allowed to enter a property for the following reasons:
- To show the property to a prospective new tenant
- To make repairs to the property
- To inspect the property
If your landlord enters your property for any reason not listed above, harasses you, or fails to provide the required notice, you may be legally permitted to break your lease without facing any penalty fees.
Renters must typically first obtain a court order informing the landlord that they must stop these actions. If the landlord fails to follow that court order, the renter can then provide proper notice of their intention to end the lease.
There are various types of harassment, all of which can be subjectively based on an individual’s perception. Thus, it’s crucial for landlords to refrain from any behavior that could result in a harassment case and consequential compensation. If you’re unsure about which types of actions may qualify as harassment, here are some typical examples:
- Verbally or physically threatening a tenant
- Sexual harassment
- Filing false charges or false eviction against the tenant
- Refusing to accept rent payments as a means of intimidation
- Unlawfully changing the locks
- Removing personal belongings from the property
- Cutting off amenities as described in the lease agreement
- Disrupting utility services that affect habitability
- Refusing to perform maintenance in a timely manner
- Creating nuisances that disrupt the right to quiet enjoyment
Consequences of Breaking a Lease
Leases are binding contracts, and as such, breaking them may naturally incur some negative repercussions. Should you decide to break your lease without consulting your landlord, you could face the following consequences:
- You may be required to pay heavy early termination fees as outlined by the lease agreement.
- The landlord could file a lawsuit against you for breach of contract.
- Any outstanding rent payments could be sent to a collection agency.
- Your landlord could take you to small claims court.
- Your credit score could take a hit due to unpaid rent (aka debt).
- Landlords/management companies may be reluctant to rent to you in the future.
If you’re concerned about ramifications for your credit report or the possibility of losing out on future tenancy options, we suggest seeking legal advice based on your state laws.
Many states, like New York, have specific landlord-tenant laws that protect tenants’ rights and create exceptions for breaking a lease. A lawyer might also be able to help you reach an agreement with your landlord to lessen some of the consequences of breaking your lease.
Still Want To Move?
Breaking a Lease FAQ
Is it bad to break a lease?
Not if you do it properly. Follow your rental agreement rules and breaking a lease should be fine.
How do I legally break my lease?
Grab your rental agreement and start reading the fine print. Check for any timelines, restrictions, and penalties for breaking your lease and follow the terms you agreed to.
How much does it cost to break a lease?
The amount you have to pay depends on the situation and your rental terms. In some cases, you may have to pay a couple months worth of rent. In other situations, you may not have to pay anything at all.
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