When you move into an apartment or rental home, you sign a legally-binding contract called a lease. Signing the lease means that you promise to pay rent for the entire length of your agreement, which is usually 12 months. Unfortunately, this means that there are very few circumstances that would allow you to get out of this agreement early without being penalized.
Breaking a lease is not ideal, but sometimes you have no other option. In the event you lose your job, get married or divorced, need to move to a new city or buy a house, you may be stuck with a few months left on a lease you can no longer hold. Contrary to popular belief, life changes such as these rarely give you legal grounds to break your lease. However, there is still a right and wrong way to get out of this written agreement. Learn the best methods for breaking an apartment lease below.
Read Your Lease
Before taking action of any kind, you need to know what your rights and responsibilities are. The best way to do this is to read your lease. Most of these documents will contain a clause relating to your rent obligations. There may also be a section that specifically discusses breaking your lease. The following terms may be used to identify this section of your lease:
- Early release
Even if your lease does not contain information on how to break your agreement, it still helps to start the process by helping you learn exactly what your lease does contain. In any case, reading the agreement may give you a better picture of the options you have for breaking your lease.
Talk to Your Landlord Immediately
After reading your lease, it is imperative that you speak with your landlord or property manager as soon as possible. If you are facing a significant life event that affects your ability to pay rent or stay in your apartment, your landlord should know from the beginning. Talking to your landlord may reveal opportunities that you were unaware of. While most landlords are concerned with receiving the rent they were promised, many will be understanding of your situation. Some may even be willing to work with you to find a solution that benefits you both. It is always easier to find a good solution with your landlord if you have a good relationship and if you are a good tenant.
Learn About Your Rights
In some cases, it is legal for you to break a lease without penalties. However, this is uncommon and there are several conditions that you must meet first. If your landlord has breached your contract in any of the following ways, you may be able to legally break your lease:
- Failed to provide maintenance when requested
- Let your unit fall into disrepair
- Entered your apartment illegally
- Failed to maintain his or her end of the contract in any way
In these cases, you will want to make sure you have the issue, as well as the breach, fully documented. Keep copies of all your correspondence and take pictures of the issue as proof. Keep in mind that getting out of a lease with this method may require you to go to court, which can be a costly endeavor.
Learn the Legal Reasons for Breaking a Lease
Unfortunately, there are very few ways that you can get out of a lease early without facing some penalties. If your landlord has failed to uphold his or her obligations, as described above, you can usually get out of your lease legally. Additionally, you can oftentimes break a lease without consequences when one of the following applies:
- You are called to military service and need to move out of the state or country.
- You are injured or become seriously ill and cannot afford to live in your apartment or need to move to an assisted living facility.
Find a New Tenant
When moving out of your apartment early is unavoidable, both you and your landlord may be required to find someone new to rent the unit for the remainder of the lease. Having someone else lease your apartment is oftentimes referred to as subletting or re-renting. While these concepts are similar, there are a few important differences you should be aware of before pursuing either option.
- Subletting or subleasing is a process in which you find someone to take over your existing lease. In most cases, this person signs a sublease agreement and the main lease will stay in your name. Note that you are still responsible for damage the sub-letter may cause even if you were not residing in the apartment at the time.
- Re-renting is a process in which a landlord will find a new tenant to live in your unit. When this option is used, the landlord will show the unit to prospective renters just as he or she would do if you were moving out at the end of your lease. The new renters will sign a separate lease that is not connected to your original agreement in any way.
Pay off the Balance of Your Lease
After breaking a lease, keep in mind that you may still be held accountable for paying the rent until the lease is over. This is usually only the case if you or the landlord cannot find a new tenant. If you cannot get someone to sublet your apartment and do not have legal grounds to leave your lease without a penalty, you may be stuck paying for the remaining months of your existing agreement. Few people are able to pay off the balance in full all at once. However, you may be able to talk to your landlord about arranging a payment plan. If you still owe $4,000 in rent on your existing lease, for example, you can ask to pay off the balance over a course of six to 12 months rather than paying a lump sum.
Forfeit Your Security Deposit
If you are like most renters, you have been counting on getting most or all of your security deposit back after moving out. Offering to give up your security deposit may put you on your landlord’s good side and help you avoid penalties. Depending on how much time you have left on your lease, you may be able to lower your other expenses and fees by forfeiting your deposit.
Note that you should never move out without notice, assuming that the security deposit will cover your fees and other penalties. Always communicate with your landlord before walking away from your deposit, as this may help you avoid any legal problems in the long run.