How to Get Out of a Lease

Learn how to approach your landlord if you plan on breaking a home or apartment lease.

Breaking a lease isn’t always easy, but there are several things you can do to avoid a civil lawsuit and even come out ahead financially during the transition. Learning your rights as a tenant and knowing what your landlord is responsible for are key pieces of the process.

Here’s a quick guide to help you understand how to get out of a lease without painful repercussions.

Steps to Take When Breaking a Lease

Even though you might be following the rules when breaking a lease, you could still be subject to penalties and fees. Many landlords might impose a fee of two times the current market rent when you break your lease and you forfeit your security deposit. Make sure you’re clear on what the rules are so there are no surprises.

Though the rules will vary by landlord, these are the general steps for breaking an apartment lease:

  1. Ask your landlord to do a maintenance check or inspection. Do this before you make the request to break your lease or give your notice. By law, your landlord is responsible for making sure the unit is in good condition and there are no major electrical, security, or pest infestation issues. This way, your landlord will have a record of all repairs that need to be taken care of, and you won’t be responsible for paying the cost of repairs when you move out.
  2. Find out all move-out instructions. You must follow all move-out instructions so you don’t get charged for repairs and maintenance expenses that should otherwise be managed by the landlord.
  3. Do what you can to make it easier for your landlord. “Try to make the landlord’s re-renting process easier,” said Justin Cupler, assistant editor at The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website. “Clean the place from top to bottom, fix every hole and repaint, offer to help show the house — or, at the very least, give the landlord all the space they need to show it — keep it clean and well-maintained for showings and maintain constant communication with the landlord.”

When you follow the rules, the landlord has no excuse to not follow the same rules, said Cupler. He shared his experience of breaking his lease in mid-2016:

“I followed every rule to the letter, and when my landlord didn’t refund my security deposit in the 14 days required by law, I sent a certified letter requesting it and interest if she failed to comply — as allowed by the law. She thought we had a ‘different arrangement,’ to which I said, ‘I followed the rules and you must, too.’ She overnighted my security deposit that day.”

Learn: The Cost of Renting vs. Owning a Home in Every State

Legally Breaking a Lease With Your Landlord

Depending on your state and local tenant laws, you can legally break a lease for several reasons. You might be eligible to get out of a lease legally for the following reasons:

  • Call to military service
  • Landlord hasn’t repaired something in a timely manner
  • Unlawful harassment by the landlord
  • Excessive noise problems
  • Serious safety and security concerns
  • Health concerns
  • Threats from roommates and neighbors that lead to an arrest when the landlord fails to file an eviction action

Find OutDoes Breaking a Lease Affect Your Credit?

Addendums for Getting Out of a Lease

Getting out of a lease early without any penalties could be possible if you signed an addendum when you first started renting your unit or home. If you decide to buy a house or you get a job transfer, some landlords can offer an addendum to the rental agreement that states you’re free to break the lease early by giving notice in a certain time frame. The specific details about how far away the job has to be or how much notice you have to give vary by landlord and should be included in the addendum.

Ask your landlord if there’s any type of buyout clause or other options for breaking a lease early for major life events. Your landlord might be more willing to negotiate your plans to move out without penalizing you if there’s a buyout clause in place.

Related: How to Save for a House While Renting

Subleasing Your Unit or Home

If your rental agreement allows for subletting your unit or home, you could have someone sublease the property for the remainder of the lease term. Subleasing means somebody else will be responsible for taking care of the unit or property. Your landlord will need to approve this subtenant to live in the unit or property before you can move out. Possible reasons to sublease include moving out of state for a job without much notice or being unable to negotiate cheaper rent.

You could sublet your home to someone at a lower price than the rent you currently pay and pay the difference or find someone who agrees to pay your current rate. Still, you’ll be responsible for paying the full rent because your name will be on the lease until the end of the lease term. If you sublease your property without permission, you could be breaking the law. Be aware of any stipulations and terms about subleasing listed in your rental agreement.

Know Your Rights When Getting Out of a Lease Early

Breaking a lease early might be your only option when you’re moving out of state, saving up and buying a home that won’t be on the market any longer, or if you just can’t afford the rent and don’t want to risk an eviction or damage to your credit.

Do your homework so you know your rights, and make sure you’re all paid up on the rent. Although it’s possible to get an apartment with bad credit, unpaid rent can damage your credit and make it harder to find housing in the future. If you are aware of all the penalties and fees involved and know your local tenant laws and rights, you can make the process of getting out of a lease early easier on you and your landlord.

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