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How To Get Out of a Lease

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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, such as damage to your credit.

What Is a Lease?

A lease is a binding legal contract between the tenant, or lessee, and the landlord or lessor. The contract outlines the terms of the lease, such as the length of the lease period, lease payments and when payments are due. For residential purposes, you may have to sign a lease to rent a home or apartment. If a tenant or landlord fails to meet the terms of the lease contract, there can be legal consequences.

What Are the Reasons for Breaking a Lease?

Sometimes, you need to get out of your lease before the agreed-upon leasing period ends. Depending on your state and local tenant laws, you can legally break a lease for various reasons, including the following:

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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:

Review Your Lease Agreement

Before you notify your landlord of your plans, reread your lease agreement to find out your options. There may be a section that details how to get out of your lease and any related penalties that may apply. Possible options for getting out of your lease include having to give advance notice or find a replacement renter. An option for lease termination may also be available. However, you will likely have to pay a termination fee and forfeit your security deposit.

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Getting out of a lease early without any penalties could also be possible if you signed an addendum when you first started renting the 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.

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Speak to Your Landlord

Once you’re aware of your options and know what you would like to do, speak to your landlord about your plans to get out of your lease. Even if the reason you want to get out of your lease is not legally permissible, your landlord may still be willing to work with you. The more advance notice you can give, the better. Being honest and communicative is the best way to get what you want.

Look For a Renter To Replace You

In some states, your lease agreement will require you and your landlord to find a replacement renter if you break the lease.  Subletting or re-renting are the two options for renter replacement. Your landlord will have to approve the person for either of these arrangements, and finding the right person could take time. Meanwhile, you’ll be responsible for paying the rent.

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Decide If Terminating the Lease Is Right for You

If you need immediately get out of your lease and you don’t have time to find a new renter, you may decide that you need to terminate your lease. If you do break your lease, you may have to pay two or three months’ rent (or all of the remaining months on your lease agreement) and say goodbye to your security deposit. However, speak to your landlord to see what the exact costs will be. While the costs may seem steep, remember that your landlord was counting on you to fulfill the terms of your lease agreement.

Consult With a Tenants Union

Tenants unions are building, neighborhood or city-based and serve to fight for the collective interests and rights of renters. If you live in an area with a tenants union, you can consult the union to find out your rights as a tenant. Also, if you need assistance in breaking your lease agreement early, the tenants union may be helpful. Other ways consulting a union can help include if your landlord doesn’t respond to your requests to break your lease, doesn’t make efforts to locate a new renter or charges more for breaking the lease than what is stated in the agreement.

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Document All Communication

To protect yourself when trying to get out of your lease, it’s important to have a record of all communication between you and your landlord. While email is the simplest way to create a record, you can also communicate in person, by phone or by text. Screenshot and save the texts. And if you speak in person or by phone, immediately make notes about your conversation. Then, follow up with an email stating the main points of what you talked about and ask your landlord to confirm them.

Consult With an Attorney If Needed

Unfortunately, even your best efforts to politely get out of your lease can be derailed if you have an unreasonable or unresponsive landlord. For example, if the property you lease has an unrelenting pest problem and the landlord refuses to do anything to remedy the situation, you’ll need to get outside help. If you have access to a tenants union, try to get help there first. If that doesn’t work, you may need to consult with an attorney.

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Takeaways on 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. 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. If you find you need help getting out of your lease, contact your local tenants union or an attorney.

Sabah Karimi contributed to the reporting for this article.