There comes a time in many renters’ lives when circumstances change and they want to break a lease early. Whether it be a job change, a nightmare roommate or whatever it may be, deciding to relocate before your rental contract is up can present some issues.
Breaking a lease agreement on your rental isn’t the easiest process to go through, but it’s more common than you might think. If you need to break your lease before it’s over, below we provide a few different ways to do it. Keep in mind that terminating a lease agreement could turn into a time-consuming and expensive process, so before considering how you’ll do it, you might want to decide if it’s in your best interest. If you’re sure it’s the option for you, read on.
A good lesson for all renters is that you never know when circumstances will arise that will make you want to consider getting out of a lease before the contract term is up. Be sure to keep that in mind while renting, and do your best to be a good tenant and maintain a friendly—or at least respectable—relationship with your landlord. If you always pay your rent on time and keep the property in good condition, you have a much better chance of facing leniency when and if you want to break the lease later on.
Talk with Your Landlord
You’ll want to get in touch with your landlord and explain your situation. A simple email, text or preferably a phone call will do, however in person is the most acceptable way. There might be a simple agreement that benefits both of you, depending on timing.While you may get lucky and have a sympathetic landlord who is willing to let you off the hook without any penalties, that’s not always the case. A lease is a legally binding contract that establishes expectations on both ends. For your landlord, there’s an expectation of tenancy—and therefore, rental payments—through a set period of time. Not everyone is willing to give that up so easily. However, transparency and honesty are key here, as is a kind and respectable tone.
Start the conversation by asking your landlord if they would allow you to find a tenant to take over your lease or sublet it. This will make things easier for your landlord as they won’t have to do the work themselves. Plus, the lease termination conversation is more likely to work in your favor if you’ve already done some of the legwork and researched your options.
Review Your Lease and Give Notice
Review your lease before you speak with your landlord so you are educated. Typically, you’ll find something called a “break clause” that describes the processes and conditions required of either the tenant or the landlord to legally break the lease before it ends.
First, find out if there are any rules in which you need to provide written notice. Many break clauses ask that a notice needs to be given in a written format. Typically, a letter mailed to the landlord. If these regulations do exist in your lease, it’s important to follow them closely, as this could allow your landlord to decline your notice.
Found the section but it says the lease cannot be broken for any reason? Don’t start to worry yet. Just because something is written in the lease does not mean it can’t be amended if agreed upon by both parties. There’s still a chance that your landlord will be open to working something out.
Next, determine when you’ll give notice. Typical leases usually require a 30-day notice before leaving. Check your lease and find the date your lease began. Then, decide which date you plan to leave.
A bit less commonly, a break clause can contain limitations on breaking your lease depending on how long you’ve been there. For example, it’s possible for a tenant to only be able to break a year-long lease after having lived there for 6 months.
TIP: After giving written notice to terminate the lease, ask your landlord for a written agreement to work with you on doing so.
Aside from the type and timing of the notice, the break clause in your lease will also contain the conditions that you must adhere to in order for you to legally break the lease (or vice versa for the landlord). These can include being current on rent at the time of leaving, vacating the apartment completely and fixing any repairs.
If your landlord does require you to pay out the rest of the rent period, you’ll have to abide by the terms of the lease. If you’re strapped financially, you can offer to build a payment plan that allows you to sign a contract stating that you’ll make monthly payments. Not all landlords will agree to this, so ask yours directly.
Be sure to return the unit to the condition in which you moved into it. Make sure that you’re aware of all of the repairs you’re responsible for by checking the other sections of your lease.
TIP: Ask your landlord if there are any outstanding damages that you’ll need to fix so you know what’s expected of you before leaving. Often, you may not be aware of certain things.
A common action for getting around breaking your lease is subletting. If subletting your apartment is allowed, this could be the easiest way to move out without having to pay out the rest of the lease’s rent. You can find a new tenant to occupy the unit and pay the rent. Just keep in mind that your name is still on the lease, so the new tenant would likely be paying you every month and you would continue paying rent as you normally do. Come to an agreement about who is responsible for damages and/or the security deposit, so you’re not stuck paying for things your sub letter did during their stay.
You can also see if your landlord will allow a re-let, which is where a new tenant comes in and signs a new lease, as opposed to just taking over the remainder of yours. This is less risky on your end, and usually a preferable choice.
If you sublet, you will be responsible for sorting out rent payment processes for your sub letter, agreeing on what to do about the security deposit, and potentially even doing credit or background checks, all depending on what your landlord is going to take care of.
Legal reasons to break a lease
There are some situations where you are legally allowed to break your lease regardless of what the contract says about early release. Your specific legal rights in this area are dependent on the laws in your state, but typically, a legal basis for breaking a lease early can be established if:
• You are an active member of the military and receive a change of station notice;
• You have been the victim of domestic violence at some point within the last three to six months;
• You find out the rental itself is illegal;
• Your landlord has failed to maintain the premises in a fit and habitable manner;
• Your landlord has breached the lease on their end, such as giving less than 24 hours’ notice before entering your unit when the lease dictates you must receive that.
If you’re looking to break a lease based on a legal claim, be sure to research the landlord-tenant laws in your state, including how much notice is required to be given if you are breaking the lease for a legally acceptable reason. Even if the law is on your side, you may still be required to give at least 30 days’ notice of your intent to vacate the property.
If all else fails…
There’s always the possibility that you won’t be able to break a lease early, no matter how good your reasoning for wanting to do so. Landlords are business people, and they’re not always going to be flexible. If this happens are determined to leave, ask if you can vacate the property but continue paying the rent until the unit is re-let, with the expectation that your landlord will start looking for a new tenant immediately. Depending on where you live, you likely won’t have to wait very long for them to find someone. You may have to pay additional money on top of that, possibly forfeiting your security deposit, but if you’re really set on leaving early then it’s just the price you’re going to have to pay to do it.
After all is said and done, you’re either going to be allowed to break your lease or you’ll be allowed to sublet. How much you’ll have to pay will vary and depend on which direction you go.
Every lease is different, so it’s important to read and understand yours and handle it legally and maturely. Good luck and treat others as you wish to be treated!