What You Should Know Before Breaking a Lease

A lease is a legally binding agreement that states that you will continue to pay rent on the home or apartment until the lease agreement ends.

But sometimes, you might need to move out early which can leave you in a sticky situation.

(If you are moving soon, we can help you get a quick personalized quote to find a top mover.)

Before you decide to end your lease term early and move out, there are a few things you can do to try and mitigate the situation and make sure that it has the least effect on you possible.

Here are a few things you should do before deciding to break a lease.

Read the Rental Agreement

One of the very first things you must do when considering breaking a lease is to read the rental agreement. Don’t just peruse it; read it word for word. If you have to read it multiple times, do so. If you need to read it with the help of a real estate attorney, do so. Protecting your rights and avoiding any legal trouble is vital when it comes to your place of residence.

The lease should describe any and all penalties that can be assessed to you for breaking a lease early. 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 what you have to do if you intend to break the lease before it expires. For example, you might need to provide the landlord with 60-90 days’ notice before moving out. Make sure you provide written notice so that there is evidence of the conversation. You might have to find someone to move in after you move out to take over the remainder of your lease. Either way, it’s important to find out exactly what the lease says before breaking the lease.

Have a Conversation with Your Landlord

Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your landlord. It can’t hurt to sit down and ask questions or explain your situation, especially if you have extenuating circumstances that are forcing you to break the lease. If you’ve been a good renter, your landlord might not care that you are trying to break the lease.

They are human, after all, and should be understanding if you are open and honest with them. Providing as much notice as possible when learning how to break a lease can also do wonders for your situation.

The landlord might grant your request to break the lease so long as you are able to find a replacement tenant to take over the remainder of the lease.

Finding a New Renter

Many states across the country require both the landlord and the tenant to find a new renter when a lease is being broken. Doing so helps to lessen the amount of rent still owed to the landlord. Finding a new tenant can be done in one of two ways: re-renting and subletting.

Re-renting Your Apartment

This process involves the landlord listing the apartment publicly for rent, showing it to prospective renters, and having the new renter pay a security deposit. The new renter will also sign a brand new lease agreement with the landlord.

Subletting

The process of subletting happens when either you or the landlord finds someone to take over the remainder of your current lease so that 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 that you will still be responsible for any damage they cause to the apartment or if they fail to pay the rent. The security deposit you paid the landlord will not be returned to you until your original lease agreement expires.

Explore Offers for Termination

Every lease has termination language or an early termination clause that explains what can be done if you are unable to find a new renter to sublet or re-rent your apartment. Some lease termination offers might require you to pay two or three months’ worth of rent and have the landlord keep the security deposit since you are breaking the lease early.

Or, if you had a good relationship with your landlord, he or she might only ask for one month’s rent. Either way, it’s a good idea to speak with the landlord about your options and what he or she expects from you.

Ask for Everything in Writing

Ask your landlord for everything in writing when discussing how to break a lease. You should get everything in writing, including the very first conversation you have with your landlord about possibly breaking your lease. This is especially true if you discuss any type of monetary fine or compensation in order to break the lease. This will protect both of you down the road.

Learn the Exceptions to Breaking a Lease

There are exceptions to breaking a lease no matter where you live that can ensure you are able to do so without financial penalty or having to find a new renter for the landlord.

The Property is Not Maintained

If the landlord fails to maintain the property, or make reasonable efforts to do so, you should be able to break the lease without any issues. Landlords or property managers are required to provide tenants with a habitable property by doing the following:

  • Make repairs
  • Provide running water at all times
  • Clean all of the common areas
  • Place the correct trash bins throughout the building
  • Follow all safety and health codes

If the habitability of the property is compromised, then it may entitle you to break the lease without any consequences.

You Are Active Duty Military

Members of the military are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which allows them to break a lease early if their orders require them to move. This only applies to military members who are going to relocate for at least 90 days. The military service member must provide notice of 30 days to their landlord to be protected under the act.

For active and former service members, check out our complete military moving guide. 

You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence

In many states, victims of domestic violence are allowed to break their lease agreements. In order for the lease to be broken without penalties, the following must have been present:

  • The act that led to domestic violence had to have happened in the past three to six months
  • You must provide your landlord notice in writing that you want to break the lease because of a domestic violence incident
  • The notice must be provided at least 30 days prior to you moving out of the apartment

Your Landlord Illegally Entered the Property

For the most part, a landlord is required to provide a tenant with at least 24 hours’ notice before entering their property. Landlords are allowed to enter property legally for any of the following matters:

  • To show the property to a prospective tenant
  • To make repairs to the property
  • To inspect the property

Should your landlord enter your property for any reason not listed above, harasses you, or doesn’t provide the required notice; you very well could have the legal ability to break the lease without facing financial repercussions. You will be required to obtain a court order informing the landlord that they must stop these actions. If the landlord fails to follow the court order, you can then provide notice that you are going to end the lease.

You Live in an Illegal Apartment

There are building codes throughout the country that govern what types of properties can be rented. For example, many states have regulations about basements being rented out as apartments. If you are living in an illegal apartment, you should be able to legally break the lease without facing repercussions or worrying about what happens when you break a lease.

The Lease Itself was Illegal

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the lease itself was illegal. If so, it gives you every right to break the lease without being penalized. The most common cause of an illegal lease is when the purported landlord did not have the legal right to rent the property in the first place.

Possible Negative Consequences of Breaking a Lease

As you might expect, there are possible negative consequences of breaking a lease. It is, after all, a valid contract. Should you decide to break the lease without talking to the landlord, you could face the following consequences:

  • Be required to pay heavy termination fees 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 (debt)
  • You might find it difficult to rent a property in the future (you could wind up with eviction notices on your record)

If you’re worried about things like your credit report or the possibility of losing future tenancy options, it’s a good idea to seek out legal advice based on your state laws. Many states, like New York, have specific landlord-tenant laws that provide specific legal reasons that protect tenant’s 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 a lease.

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