You just got a job offer that you don’t want to turn down, but the company is located in a different city, and you just renewed the lease on your apartment. Or maybe you’re a college student who only needed an apartment during the school year, but had to sign a one-year lease.
There are many reasons that tenants may need or want to move before their lease ends. While there are legal justifications for breaking a lease, most of the time there will be some sort of penalty for ending a lease early.
Here are some of the common reasons why you may need to end a lease early, what your options are, and some tips for doing it properly.
Your Legal Obligations
First, it’s important to know that a lease is a legally binding contract between you and your landlord. Many leases are fixed term, which means that the contract ends on a set date. By signing your lease, you agreed to meet the obligations of the agreement for the duration of the term.
Of course, you probably didn’t sign the lease with the intention of breaking it. Life can have unexpected turns, and it’s not uncommon for renters to want to move before their lease is up.
However, you cannot simply leave, whether it’s temporarily or permanently, without expecting to remain responsible for rent payments. Even having the most valid excuse won’t necessarily get you out of your lease obligations.
Why to End a Lease Early
Typically, we can distinguish between renters who are leaving temporarily and those who are moving permanently. Common reasons renters may want to leave temporarily include:
- Traveling for an extended period
- Studying abroad or doing a work exchange
- Leaving student housing for the summer
- Dealing with a family crisis
Some renters want to be permanently rid of their lease obligations, usually because they’re:
- Purchasing a home
- Moving in with a partner
- Moving into a larger or smaller space
- Relocating to a new city for a job or school
Personal reasons such as those listed above usually don’t justify breaking a lease without some form of penalty, so you’ll have to consult your lease for an early termination clause or come to an arrangement with your landlord. However, landlord-tenant laws may protect you in some circumstances.
Legal Reasons to Break a Lease
For the most part, you’ll be held to the terms of your rental contract. Nevertheless, there are some legal justifications for breaking a lease, so it’s important to know your state laws.
Generally, you have the right to break your lease if:
- You must relocate for health reasons, including moving to a nursing home
- You’re called to active military service
- The landlord violates your contract, such as entering the premises without your consent
- You’re the victim of domestic violence
- You’re being threatened or harassed by a neighbor
- Repairs to the unit are not completed
- The unit is condemned
Even if you have a legally valid reason for ending your lease, it’s still a good idea to give your landlord a Notice of Termination, as opposed to simply abandoning the property. Having a record of your communications will help if you need to request that your landlord return your security deposit or you’re mistakenly held responsible for the remaining rent payments.
How to Break Your Lease
It’s not always easy to end a lease early, but here are some ways to do it without breaking the landlord-tenant laws in your state.
Look for an Early Termination Clause
For the most part, your landlord will hold you to the terms of your lease. So, the first thing to do is consult your contract for provisions about ending a lease early, such as giving adequate notice and paying an early termination fee (e.g. two months’ worth of rent). Follow any rules contained in your lease, and ensure you give your landlord proper notice.
Talk to Your Landlord
If there are no provisions in the lease, ask your landlord or property manager about your options. If your lease doesn’t specifically address the situation, you may be able to negotiate terms that are agreeable to both of you.
For example, you can offer to take the burden of finding a new tenant off your landlord’s shoulders, or perhaps agree to continue paying rent until a new tenant is found. Sometimes, tenants can negotiate a lease buyout, which involves paying a sum of money in exchange for the landlord’s consent to release you from the rental contract.
Speak to Your Company
If you’re relocating because of a great new job, it’s worth telling the company about your situation. Some companies help new employees with moving expenses, so if you’re a valuable new hire, you can inquire about getting assistance in buying out your lease.
Get Permission to Sublet
Your lease may have a clause about subletting, which can be a good option if you’re only leaving temporarily, because it allows you to hand over your lease obligations to a third party, or subtenant. If your lease doesn’t mention subletting, speak to your landlord about your options.
So long as the terms of the original lease are respected, your landlord may not be too strict about who is actually occupying the unit. Regardless, it’s vital to get your landlord’s consent before signing a Sublease Agreement with a new tenant.
Before signing a contract, bear in mind that handing over your rights and responsibilities to a subtenant doesn’t free you from your obligations to the landlord. In other words, if your subtenant leaves without warning or causes damage to the rental unit, you’ll owe rent or be liable for those damages.
Get Permission to Assign the Lease
Like subletting, your lease may explicitly address your right to assign the lease. A Lease Assignment is typically a better option if you have no intent to return, as it allows you to hand over your lease interest for the remainder of the rental term. Like a sublease, it’s important to get written consent from your landlord before assigning your lease to a new tenant.
With an assignment, your landlord may or may not release you from liability for breaches of the terms of the lease. For example, if the new tenant causes damages to the property and refuses to pay, the landlord may retain the right to extract payment from you.
Waiting until your lease expires is a last resort, but it may be your only alternative if your landlord refuses to budge and you don’t need to leave immediately.
If You Leave Anyway
Keep in mind that most states require landlords to mitigate the loss of rental income by making reasonable attempts to find a replacement tenant. This means that if you move out and your landlord makes no effort to find a new tenant, they cannot hold you responsible for the rent.
There are some restrictions to this rule though, so be sure to check your local laws before pursuing your landlord for failure to mitigate.
The Consequences of Breaking a Lease
Many renters find themselves needing to end a lease early due to unforeseen circumstances. There are consequences to breaking a lease, but it’s far better to deal with a small penalty now than to face legal repercussions later. Whether it’s paying an early termination fee or agreeing to pay rent until a new tenant is found, ending your lease properly may save you time and money in the future.
Have you ever had to break a lease?