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How to Break a Lease

Leases exist for the benefit of tenants and landlords. By signing, tenants agree to provide landlords with a stable income in exchange for fixed rental costs. But while leases are predictable, life is not. Sometimes tenants are forced to break their lease for reasons beyond their control, such as a job loss, family illness, or career change. For tenants who need to move unexpectedly, here is how to break a lease responsibly.

Review Your Lease Agreement

Every lease has an early termination clause. Before approaching your landlord, read it over to learn what your rights are under the agreement. This will not only help you avoid surprises, but it will also alert you to any fees you might incur and how much notice you’re required to give before leaving (30-60 days in most cases).

Talk to Your Landlord

Once you understand the possible consequences for breaking the lease, approach your landlord as soon as you can and explain the situation. Once they understand your circumstances, they may be willing to come to an agreement and waive some of the fees they’re entitled to, especially if you have a compelling reason for moving out.

Be Prepared to Pay

Breaking a lease entails a substantial loss of revenue for your landlord. In order to attract a new tenant, they’re generally required to refurbish the unit after you vacate. This can leave the property sitting vacant for weeks or months. To compensate, most leases penalize tenants who move out early by charging 1-2 months rent. In some states, they may lose the right to their security deposit as well. Under some rental agreements, tenants are even obliged to continue paying rent for the duration of their lease or until the landlord can let the property to a new tenant.

Find Another Renter

Some agreements allow tenants to sublet or sublease their apartments. Though often used interchangeably, subletting is not the same as subleasing. Subletting occurs when a new tenant takes over the lease by signing an agreement with the landlord, while subleasing occurs when a new tenant signs a lease with the previous occupant instead. Keep in mind that under a sublease agreement, the original tenant is still ultimately responsible for rent and damage to the unit.

Landlords are legally required to mitigate their losses, which means they have to make a good faith effort to re-rent their property after you break a lease. For this reason, locating a replacement tenant is one of the best ways to avoid fees and penalties. But landlords aren’t obliged to accept anyone you put forward. New renters will need to submit to a background check and credit report, to ensure they’re trustworthy and financially sound.

Check State and Local Laws

Under some circumstances, it’s possible to break a lease without any ramifications. Special exemptions exist to protect Americans from dangerous individuals, unhealthy conditions, and burdens imposed by military deployments. These exemptions include:

  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guards have the right to break a lease whenever they’re relocated for 90 days or more. But even though service members can leave without incurring penalties, it doesn't mean they can leave without warning. The law states that they have to deliver a written notice to their landlord 30 days before vacating the property, along with a copy of their deployment orders or a letter from their commanding officer.
  • Domestic Violence. For their safety, victims of stalking, elder abuse, or domestic violence are allowed to break a lease in order to escape from threatening persons. Landlords have the right to request a copy of a police report or restraining order from the tenant, issued within the last 180 days.
  • Uninhabitable Units. Tenants can leave early if the house or apartment they’re renting isn’t being properly maintained. The conditions that render a unit uninhabitable vary from state to state, but may include lack of heat, electricity, and hot and cold running water. Inadequate sanitation (dirty floors, lack of trash bins) also qualifies in most jurisdictions. Document all damage in your unit and send all repair requests to your landlord in writing or by email, so you have evidence to back up your claims.
  • Landlord Harassment. Every lease has a covenant of private enjoyment, which means landlords are prohibited from entering your home without permission. Changing the locks, removing windows, cutting utilities, and verbal or physical abuse also violates this covenant, which provides legal grounds to break your lease.

Document Everything

Verbal agreements are almost impossible to prove in court, so if you reach an agreement with your landlord, make sure to get it in writing. Any additional communication should be in writing as well, in case your landlord changes their mind and decides to file a legal motion later on down the road. If you talk in person or over the phone, follow up with an email reiterating the main points of conversation and asking your landlord to confirm what you discussed.

Seek Advice

If you believe your landlord is acting unfairly, contact a lawyer or your local tenants association. They’ll explain tenants’ rights in your area and may even be able to help you negotiate a termination agreement in order to avoid legal trouble with your landlord.

Perform a Final Walkthrough

After vacating the premises, request a final walkthrough with your landlord and document the state of the property. Take pictures, in case your landlord tries to charge you for damages or threatens to keep your deposit.

Moving Forward with Allied

Allied is a full service moving company. We’ve been helping people relocate for over 95 years, with moving plans tailored to fit your schedule, budget, and needs. Our experience helps simplify the entire process from start to finish. Whether you need help with packing, shipping, storage, or set-up, our teams have the skills and resources to make your move as smooth and stress-free as possible. Contact us today for a free quote!