A Renter’s Guide to Breaking a Lease

Written on September 16, 2016 by , updated on December 2, 2016

Breaking a LeaseWhen you sign a lease, you’re committing to a binding contract – but life happens and you may need to break the lease and move out early.

There are only a few reasons for breaking a lease without being liable for the entire lease amount. They include:

  • Military duty: Federal law permits you to terminate your lease with 30 days’ notice if you’re called to active duty.
  • Constructive eviction: This legal term refers to the failure of the landlord to keep the residence in habitable condition. What constitutes constructive eviction varies from state to state.
  • Bankruptcy: Early lease termination may be included in the judgment of a Chapter 7 or 11 bankruptcy proceeding.
  • Natural disaster: An earthquake, tornado, or some other disaster renders the premises uninhabitable.

You also might be able to break your lease if your landlord violates your privacy by showing up repeatedly without giving the required notice.

The following usually aren’t good reasons to break a lease:

  • Relocation by employer
  • Getting married
  • Noisy neighbors
  • Rats, mold, and other hygiene issues
  • Loss of income or other financial hardship

It’s important to maintain positive communication and a helpful attitude with your landlord.

This could save you from legal proceedings and possible financial burdens. A good attitude together with knowledge of your rights can help you make a graceful exit while retaining resources you need to relocate.

Give Adequate Notice

One of the worst things you can do is to leave your landlord in the lurch. You should give written notice even if you’ve been called to active military duty or you just suffered a fire in the unit.

Explain the Situation

Perhaps you’ve been relocated by your employer or a health crisis is forcing you to move into a supervised care situation. If the landlord understands and sympathizes, there is a better chance of working out an agreement.

If bed bugs or some other condition has made the unit uninhabitable, you must give the landlord an opportunity to correct the problem if the problem happened through no fault of yours. But if you caused the problem, you would be responsible for fixing it.

Related: How to Deal with Bed Bugs at Your Rental Property

Negotiate

If you’re leaving for reasons of inhabitability, be clear regarding what that means for you. It may take concessions, such as surrendering all or part of your security deposit, to come to an amicable agreement.

Help Make the Transition Smoother

The landlord needs to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant if you leave before your lease is up. Reliable, considerate tenants can be difficult to find, though, and many landlords don’t have time to look for one. Your help will probably be appreciated, and it could save you money. Your lease may even require you to advertise the unit in the event of early termination.

Note that the landlord can refuse the tenant you select if they don’t meet the requirements the landlord sets.

Sublet the Unit/Assign the Lease

Not all landlords are open to third-party sublets. But if yours is, you may be able to find someone in your circle of friends that can sublet the unit from you. That sidesteps the need to terminate the lease. Assuming the landlord’s approval, the new tenant pays the rent in your place, and if everything works out, signs a new rental agreement when the lease terminates. In the ideal case, you get your security deposit back upon termination of the lease.

Note that it is usually reasonable for the landlord to deduct the processing costs, such as the costs for credit checks, from your security deposit.

Clean Up

Leaving your rental unit clean makes a statement of respect for the property that landlords appreciate. You’ll likely save the money the landlord would have spent cleaning and generate good karma for yourself as well as for the tenants who come after you.

Understand Your Rights

When circumstances force you to move, it’s important to read your lease. It may contain language that spells out what needs to happen. You should also look up the tenancy laws in your state.

Get Documentation

In a constructive eviction claim, terms like “reasonable effort” and “habitable conditions” are fuzzy ones, and documentation helps support your interpretation. Take pictures and get statements from neighbors. Document your efforts to find a new tenant so that, if the efforts are unsuccessful, you can prove you tried.

Request Mediation

When you claim inhabitability, it’s often difficult for a landlord to decide who is at fault and what to correct. Instead of simply acting on your frustrations and leaving, try holding a mediation session with a third-party facilitator. Call your local jurisdiction to find out how to obtain one.

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4 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Glenda Miller

    I co-signed a lease for my younger sister about 7 years ago because she didn’t have much credit history; she has lived in the apartment since, and I’ve been living with my other sister. Now that I’m about to move into my own apartment, I was thinking of removing myself from my younger sister’s lease. My hesitation is that I don’t want to open the door for the Landlord to make any changes to my sister’s lease. What can happen? Should I ask the Landlord to keep things as they are? Or, does he have to make my sister sign a new lease with possible changes? I don’t want to open a can of worms…

  • Julie

    My tenant of the last five months just texted me telling me that he will need to vacate his apartment because he just broke up with his girlfriend that lives next door to him (She’s also my tenant). She was the one who begged me to lease to him. He said that he will need to leave in the next 15 days. It took me three months to get him as a tenant while screening so many applicants. I’m so angry. I need help I don’t know what to do. The mortgage is due on the first of the month.

  • BA HOL

    Is there a release of lease agreement when the Landlord and Tenant both agree to separate from the Residential Lease Agreement?

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