Read This Before you Break Your Lease
Many tenants find themselves in a situation where they need to or want to move out before the end of the lease term. If you are breaking your lease, it is important to keep in mind that a lease is a legally-binding document, and if the remaining months’ rent is not paid, the landlord can sue you and obtain a judgment (which may allow them to garnish your wages or take other collection actions against you). Losing your job, taking a new job in another location, not liking the place, or buying a house does not allow you to be released you from your lease. However, there are a few exceptional circumstances in which you may be able to have your lease invalidated, including:
- The landlord lied about a fact that he or she knew played an important part in your decision to rent the unit, and the fact could not be easily verified by you in advance.
- The landlord failed to keep the unit in safe and habitable condition.
- You are a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
- You or your spouse is in the military and received orders to move or deploy.
Rental laws vary by state, so it is a good idea to do research or speak to a lawyer or tenant organization about whether your situation allows you to invalidate the lease before you move out.
While breaking your lease does not release you from the responsibility to pay rent, you may not actually have to pay it all. You should talk with your landlord as soon as you know you will be moving out. In most states, the landlord is obligated to look for a new renter for the unit. You can also look for a new tenant yourself. Generally, the landlord cannot refuse to rent the unit to a qualified applicant and still hold you responsible for the rent. Once a new renter is found and starts paying rent, you are off the hook—with a caveat. If the landlord can only rent the unit for less than what you were paying, you can be held responsible for the difference in rent until the lease expires. For example, if you were paying $1,100 a month and broke the lease with 6 months left, and the landlord could only rent the unit for $1,000 a month, the landlord is entitled to $600 from you.
Some landlords also allow tenants to be let out of the lease by paying a fee. Landlords are generally only allowed to be compensated for what their actual loss is, so they cannot demand that you pay an arbitrarily-determined fee. However, if your apartment is located in a soft rental market and it is unlikely that a new tenant will be found soon, it may be to your advantage to pay the fee if it is offered. You may want consult with a lawyer or tenant organization before signing a lease-breaking agreement and paying the fee.
If you choose to break your lease, you will likely have some financial loss. However, careful planning on your part can help you keep the loss to a minimum.
Revised January 2016