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What To Know Before Breaking a Lease

Updated Oct 12, 2022

Updated Oct 12, 2022

Home > Moving > What To Know Before Breaking a Lease

Most tenants who sign a lease intend to stay at their rental for the entire duration of the lease. However, life happens. A tenant may receive a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity, need to move to be close to a sick parent, or may no longer be able to afford their rent. 

Breaking your lease is not ideal, but circumstances sometimes dictate that you must break a lease early. So, what steps should you take to prepare yourself for lease termination

Read on for our complete breakdown of what you should know before breaking a lease and how to get out of your lease. 

What Is a Lease? 

Your lease is a legal document or written agreement that dictates your rent, the terms of your rental agreement, security and pet deposit requirements, and much more. Some lease agreements will include an option or clause to terminate the lease early, especially if you provide advance notice and choose to sublet. 

What Happens if You Break Your Lease?

What is the worst that can happen if you decide to break your lease? These repercussions will strongly depend on your lease agreement. 

Here are some of the most common consequences of breaking a lease early: 

  • Your credit score could be hurt: If you’re sued in small claims court for breaking your lease, this can lead to a civil judgment ruling. Civil judgment rulings are considered a debt, which could negatively impact your credit score. 
  • You may face termination fees: Depending on your lease, you may owe fees as part of an early termination clause or forfeit your security deposit. For some, this may mean paying one or two months’ rent, while other leases may require that you pay rent during your lease time until your landlord finds another tenant. 
  • You could be sued: Your landlord may take you to small claims court and sue you to recover rent payments for the remaining months of unpaid rent. Often, the landlord will win this case if you break your lease during your lease time. 
  • Finding a new rental property may be more difficult: Your credit report and references are essential to landing a new rental property. If your property manager sues you or declines to give you a positive reference, a future landlord may refuse to rent to you. 

These are just a few reasons why breaking a lease should only be a last resort, and it’s best to wait until the end of your lease. However, if you must break your rental agreement, try the following steps to make the process easier for everyone involved. We also recommend seeking legal advice on how to navigate the situation. 

Read Your Lease Thoroughly

Before breaking your lease, it’s crucial that you dig out your lease agreement and read through it thoroughly. Look for details about the option to break your lease early. This detail will not always be included but can be incredibly helpful if you want to break your lease early. 

Regardless of whether there is an option to break your lease early, look for a section about subletting. Your landlord may allow you to sublet your place until your lease is up as an alternative to paying additional rent or fees for breaking your lease early. 

Other lease agreements will give you an option to terminate your lease early, but they may have built-in large fees, and you may risk losing your security deposit completely. 

No matter how your lease agreement is set up, you must know all the details and terms of the lease before going to your landlord. Knowing the facts will give you leverage to break your lease with the already set terms and conditions or negotiate for a better alternative for yourself, such as subletting, allowing you to avoid high fees in the process. 

Remember that you and your landlord have the same goal: having a good tenant who pays their rent on time and takes care of the place, whether this is you or a new renter.

Appeal to Your Landlord

In addition to speaking with your landlord about terminating your lease, we recommend you go in with ideas to help them make the transition easier. You could offer to help them sublet the place or find a new tenant. 

If you’re moving out due to unforeseen circumstances, like a parent becoming seriously ill or your spouse landing a dream job, you may also want to appeal to your landlord’s humanity and explain the situation. They may be more sympathetic to you breaking your lease and giving you a break if they know the reason why you’re suddenly leaving. 

If you’re no longer able to afford your rent, you may be able to negotiate a lower rent with your landlord or ask for an extension for a few months while you find a better-paying job. If you’ve been a good tenant for years, your landlord may not want to risk losing you as a clean, timely tenant and may be willing to defer your rent for a month or two while you get back on your feet. 

Remember that most landlords don’t want to go through the trouble of suing a tenant. They’re just looking for an excellent tenant who pays their rent on time. Being honest about your situation and giving as much notice as possible may soften your landlord and prevent them from charging you excess fees or make them more amenable to changing your lease agreement. 

If your landlord offers to write a new lease, ensure that you receive everything signed and in writing before settling back into your place. 

Look for a “Lease-breaking” Service

Lease-breaking services can be helpful when renters need to renegotiate their rental agreements. These legal services can also help you find renters looking for a short-term lease, making them great sublet renters. In addition, they can also find renters looking for new long-term rentals, which may make this process favorable for your landlord. 

Remember that landlords don’t want unhappy tenants. So, if you come to them with a solution and a service you’ll use to help them find a replacement renter, they may be more likely to allow you to break your lease with fewer repercussions. 

How to Break a Lease Without Fees or Repercussions

There are several situations where you can break a lease without fees or repercussions, even if there is a broken lease clause, due to landlord-tenant laws. We recommend you also check your local state laws for other ways to break a lease without penalty. 

Active Duty Military

Legally, a landlord cannot punish an active military service member who is being relocated due to military duty, as the Service Members Civil Relief Act protects them. However, the individual must show that they signed the lease before starting active duty, intend to be on active duty for at least three months, and provide the landlord with deployment letters from their commanding officer. 

Property Not Maintained

Another exception is if your landlord has not adequately maintained the rental property. If you have made reasonable efforts to have the landlord fix things or follow health and safety codes, but they have refused or are not responsive, you may be able to break your lease. 

Here are a couple of ways a landlord can violate laws that protect a renter’s right to an adequately maintained rental property: 

  • Not making repairs
  • Not keeping up the common areas, such as landscaping
  • Not providing running water 24/7
  • Not placing or providing the correct trash bins throughout your building
  • Not following health and safety codes 

Illegally Entering Your Rental

Another way a landlord could violate their right to broken lease clauses is by entering your property illegally. This incident is typically defined by a landlord coming onto your property without one full day’s notice and reasonable cause. 

Landlords can come onto the property to inspect it, make repairs, or show it to prospective tenants. However, they must give you proper notice. So, if your landlord is harassing you or not giving you notice, you can give notice that you’re breaking the lease without punishment. We recommend collecting as much evidence as possible to defend your case if this is your situation. 

Victims of Domestic Violence

If you’re a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, you’re legally protected and able to break your apartment lease agreement without penalty if you follow these steps: 

  • The domestic violence act happened in the last three to six months.
  • You give your landlord written notice that you’re breaking your lease due to a domestic violence incident.
  • You provide written notice at least 30 days before you move out.

Illegal Rental or Lease

Lastly, you can break your lease and tenancy without penalty if your lease or rental property is illegal. 

Rental properties must be under a specific building code throughout the country to be legally rented. You can legally break the lease if your rental property is not the correct code or breaks regulations in your state. 

Additionally, if your lease is illegal, which often happens when the landlord doesn’t have the right to rent the property, you can immediately get out of your lease without an early termination fee. 

Final Thoughts

Breaking a lease can be tricky and may result in repercussions. Before breaking your lease, consider how important it is that you break the lease immediately and how you can work the situation in your favor. Think about ways to negotiate with your landlord to make the transition smoother for both of you. Many landlords are open to finding a replacement tenant, saving you from paying months of missed rent. 

During this process, take your time to do all your research, consider your options, and, most importantly, get everything in writing.

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