Apartment Resources

How to Break a Lease

A lease is a contract between tenant and landlord, in which the tenant is legally bound to pay rent for a certain term. You may need to break your lease because of reasons like needing to relocate to another city, getting married, graduating from college, or because your apartment is in bad condition. But keep in mind that breaking this contract may result in a penalty, such as payment of rent for the rest of the term. If you simply move out and ignore your lease, however, your landlord may recover damages and unpaid rent by filing a lawsuit against you. The best thing you can do is know how the law protects you as a tenant and ways you can mitigate the penalty.

Subletting or Assigning the Lease
In order to avoid paying this penalty, you may try to find other tenants to take over your lease. Read your lease carefully and look for mention of “sublease” or “assignment” and obtain consent of your landlord in writing. If you “sublet” your apartment, the new tenant pays you for rent and you are still under contract with the landlord. If you “assign” the lease to another person, he or she takes over your lease and is liable to the landlord. It is essentially a new lease with a new party.

Exempt Situations
There are some situations where you may not have to pay a penalty. Federal law allows you to break your lease without a penalty if you are called to active military duty. Some state and local laws have provisions for those who need to move for medical treatment.

Uninhabitable Conditions
If the apartment is damaged to the extent that it is uninhabitable, through no fault of the tenant (such as through natural disaster), you can break your lease without penalty. Depending on the state, other factors of habitability include safe electrical wiring, hot water, functional locks, and more. If your apartment’s condition violates the law, then you can give written notice to the landlord and move out immediately. It’s best to check with your local housing authority or legal aid agency to make sure you have sufficient cause to vacate.

Try to Negotiate
You can try to negotiate with your landlord to void your lease if you must move out and do not have a legal excuse to avoid penalty. Give your landlord as much notice in advance as possible and help find replacement tenants. If your landlord cannot find a new tenant and loses rent during the rest of your lease term, you may have to pay that rent. However, most state laws require landlords to mitigate damages, so the landlord must make reasonable attempts to find replacement tenants.

What are the consequences of breaking your lease?
Breaking a lease is a BIG deal, you should not consider breaking your lease unless you are in a dire situation. It can potentially make it very difficult for you to find another landlord willing to enter into a lease agreement with you in the future. Furthermore, it may negatively affect your credit score. If you break your apartment lease, your landlord is able to report you to the credit bureaus because you are essentially breaching a legally binding contract. If the landlord turns your account over to a collection agency, credit-reporting agencies will be notified.  A landlord can also take you to court and get a civil judgment against you, which also stains your credit report for about seven years.

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