Under ideal circumstances, rental properties are safe, affordable, and comfortable to live in. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. If you feel unsafe in your home, or if you get into financial difficulty and can’t afford the rent on your apartment, you might decide to move.
Breaking a lease might feel like uncharted territory. How do you start? Is it even allowed? We’ve got you covered, and we’ll give you a few tips on how to get out of a lease.
Just a quick note before we start—while we’ll give you some suggestions that could help, we aren’t giving you legal advice. If you need help working through the details of your lease or you’re worried about being taken to court, consult an attorney.
In This Piece
- What Happens If You Break a Lease?
- Common Reasons to Break a Lease
- How Can You Get Out of a Lease Early?
- Legal Protections for Ending a Lease Early
- Tips for Getting Out of a Lease
- Breaking a Car Lease
- Can Breaking a Lease Hurt My Credit?
What Happens If You Break a Lease?
Honestly, it’s hard to definitively say what will happen if you break your lease agreement. It depends on a few things—your landlord, your lease, etc. Worst case scenario, your landlord might take legal action against you. Or you may have to pay a penalty fee.
Before you consider breaking your lease, read it carefully to figure out what your options are. Leases vary by state—and sometimes city or municipal area—so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all document. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your lease before you make your move.
Common Reasons to Break a Lease
It isn’t uncommon to break a lease early—in fact, people do it pretty often. Here are some of the top reasons leases end prematurely:
- You’re an active-duty member of the military. Deployed military members often have to break their leases early. Thankfully, landlords are usually understanding under these circumstances.
- Your rental unit isn’t habitable. Black mold, inadequate waste disposal, and running water issues can interfere with your health. Generally, it’s your landlord’s responsibility, known as warranty of habitability, to perform routine maintenance and keep your space habitable. If your home is unfit to live in, you may be able to break your lease early.
- Your landlord enters your home illegally. Generally, landlords can’t enter their tenant’s space without a legal reason—and plenty of notice. If your landlord comes into your home without warning, or they allow other people to do so, you may have grounds to break your lease.
- You’re a domestic violence victim. If you need to escape domestic violence, don’t hesitate to move—whether your partner lives with you or not. It’s important to protect yourself, so seek help as soon as possible.
- You can’t pay your rent. Family emergencies, the COVID-19 pandemic, medical bills, and life changes all affect your financial health. If you struggle to pay your rent each month, you may need to break your lease and find a more affordable property.
What Are the Consequences of Breaking Your Lease?
Even if you find out how to get out of an apartment lease early, you could face a variety of consequences for doing so. These consequences are based on your lease as well as state and local laws, and the most common consequences you could face are listed below:
- Fees. Depending on the terms of your lease, you may need to pay an early termination fee to end your lease early. Typically, this fee is equivalent to 2 months’ rent. In some cases, the property owner may agree to use your security deposit to cover these fees, although they’re not required to do so.
- Going to court. If you break your lease early and fail to continue paying rent after you move out, the property owner could sue you in small claims court. Depending on the judge’s ruling, you might be required to pay monthly rent payments until the end of your lease plus court fees. However, property owners have to do due diligence to try to find new tenants. If the judge issues an order, this will be open to the public, and future landlords could see it.
- Difficult time renting again. Finding a new rental could take weeks or even months. It’s important that you don’t end your lease until you find a new one. If other landlords know you broke your lease early, it could make it more difficult to find a new rental.
- Your credit score. Breaking a lease without paying your rent could impact your credit score. If your landlord reports your late payments to the credit bureaus or uses a collection agency to recoup their money, it could show up on your credit report. This can negatively impact your credit score and make it harder to get approved for a new rental or loan.
How Can You Get Out of a Lease Early?
Getting out of a lease isn’t always easy, but most of the time, it can be done. Here are seven ways you can maximize your chances of breaking a lease early.
1. Read Your Lease
If you plan to leave your rental property early, do read your lease before packing up. Focus on the fine print, because that’s where penalties, caveats, and procedures for early termination usually live. Typically, leases protect the landlord more than the tenant. You may need to provide your landlord with compensation, for instance, if you move out early.
If your landlord isn’t maintaining the property properly, you may be able to break your lease without incurring any penalties. Put your concerns in writing and keep a copy on record in case your landlord tries to take legal action against you.
Tip: In most states, landlords can’t lease your old apartment to someone new and charge you rent as well. If you can find someone to take over your lease on the same terms, you might be able to move on fairly quickly. You may also be able to sublet your apartment—but check your lease before you take that step.
2. Communication is Key
If you need to break a lease, communicate with your landlord. Let your landlord know why you need to move and try to reason with them before doing anything drastic. Some landlords are surprisingly flexible and understanding—especially if you try to find a new tenant before moving. Consider things from your landlord’s perspective, too—after all, they may have a mortgage to pay on the property you live in.
3. Get Everything in Writing
If your landlord agrees to let you out of your lease early, get that confirmation in writing. Verbal agreements are very hard to prove, and if you end up in court, your lease terms will probably prevail. Keep a paper trail if your landlord won’t communicate with you, too—or if they won’t negotiate a lease release after you complain about maintenance issues. Send letters via certified mail or save any email correspondence between you and your landlord. Keep track of your whole ordeal by keeping a timeline of events.
4. Walk Through Before Leaving
Before you leave your property, insist on a walk-through with your landlord—and take photographs to prove the state of the property. A written or visual record of your walk-through results could protect you if your landlord tries to sue for damages or threatens to keep your deposit. If your landlord doesn’t show up or refuses your walk-through request, create a record and take photographs anyway.
5. Avoid Assumptions
Never assume that your deposit will cover property damage, fees, or overdue rent. In some states like New York, for example, landlords can’t automatically take your deposit if you move out unexpectedly. Instead, they have to file a complaint in housing court and ask the judge to award them your deposit. If you’re unsure about your rights as a tenant, check local or state guidelines or seek legal advice.
6. Exceptions to the Rules
We mentioned landlord-tenant warranty of habitability earlier. Many states have specific warranty of habitability laws to protect renters. In a nutshell, landlords have to keep properties in a livable state—and if they don’t, their tenants are legally entitled to move out early.
Some states list reasons for early lease termination that go beyond warranty of habitability. Check your state law and seek legal advice if you think you qualify.
7. Get Legal Help
Before you make plans to leave your home, check local and state laws and read your lease thoroughly. If you think your landlord has acted illegally, or if they’ve entered your home without prior notice or authorization, inquire about legal aid in your area. Local housing agencies and consumer protection attorneys can also help.
Legal Protections for Ending a Lease Early
Can you get out of a lease early? In some cases, you can. While laws and regulations regarding leases vary from location to location, most have a number of legal protections that let you end a lease legally. Here’s a look at the most common legal protections for renters.
You may be able to end your lease legally if your landlord is harassing you. This harassment includes entering your rental home without prior notice, changing the locks, cutting off utility services and engaging in verbal or physical abuse. If the landlord’s actions are severe enough, you may be able to get out of the lease early. Renters alleging harassment may need detailed accounts of those actions to successfully protect themselves.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act gives active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces the legal right to end a lease if they’re being relocated for 90 days or more. Servicemembers are responsible for letting the landlord know in writing as soon as they know they’re being transferred. In many cases, the servicemember must provide a 30-day notice and may be required to show the landlord proof of the new orders. The act protects servicemembers from penalties for early termination.
If you’re a victim of domestic violence, many states allow you to leave your rental early to stay safe. Many states require you to provide a 30-day notice. Landlords may ask for proof of domestic violence, such as a police report or a protection of abuse order.
Unit Is Uninhabitable
Nearly all states require landlords to maintain rentals that are safe and inhabitable. If the landlord fails to properly maintain the property, you may be able to get out of your lease early. Examples of uninhabitable conditions include no running water, no heat, health and safety concerns, and lack of proper electricity.
Tenants must first ask landlords to fix problems. If landlords fail to fix a significant health or safety violation, tenants must send written notice of their intention to terminate the lease if repairs aren’t made. They must also provide a reasonable amount of time for repairs to be completed prior to terminating the lease. However, if the violations are so severe that tenants must move out immediately, there may be exceptions to the notice requirement.
Tips for Getting Out of a Lease
Find a New Renter
One of the easiest tips for how to get out of a lease is to find a new renter. A common way to do this is through subletting. With this arrangement, the other party moves in and takes over making rent payments. Not all leases allow subleasing, however, so check the terms and conditions of your lease carefully.
If the new tenant fails to pay rent or damages the property, you’re ultimately still responsible for these payments. You can protect yourself by having new tenants sign a sublease agreement. It’s also recommended to rent to someone you trust or who you’ve run a credit check on.
Another option is to request that the landlord start a new lease with the new tenants. With this option, you’re no longer responsible for rent payments or property damages. Landlords aren’t under any obligation to end your lease early and rent to new tenants, but many are willing to do so, especially when market conditions may allow for an increase in rental rates.
Look for Help From Your Local Renter’s Union
Check to see if your local area has a renter’s union. This organization may be able to help you negotiate with your landlord to reach an agreement to end your lease early. It can also provide invaluable resources to help you learn more about the landlord-tenant laws in your area and tips for how to get out of an apartment lease.
Ask About a Lease Termination Offer
Sometimes, the best thing to do when you need to end a lease early is talk to your landlord. Depending on the property owner, you may be able to work out a lease termination offer that’s acceptable to both you and the landlord. While it’s possible you may need to pay a month or two of rent or forfeit your security deposit, you may still be able to end the lease without any negative effects.
Breaking a Car Lease
Financial problems have a knock-on effect. If you must break your apartment lease because you can’t afford to pay your rent, you may also be unable to afford your vehicle lease payment. Let’s briefly touch on two car lease FAQs before we wrap up.
Can You Break a Car Lease Early?
Some financial institutions let consumers terminate their car leases early. If your leasing company offers this option, you’ll need to pay an early termination penalty and fees. You’ll also need to give up your car. If you pay all the fees and penalties associated with your lease termination, your credit should remain intact.
Can You Get Rid of a Leased Car?
You can sell your leased car instead of breaking your lease—in fact, this might be a better option financially. You can sell your vehicle to the leasing dealership—minus a disposition fee—or you can sell it privately. There is a catch with a private sale, however. If you decide to sell your car privately, you’ll have to buy your car from the leasing company first.
Can Breaking a Lease Hurt My Credit?
Landlords don’t usually report rental payments, so breaking a lease won’t generally hurt your credit, providing you pay any applicable early termination fees and don’t end up in collections.
If you’re ready to make on-time rental payments part of your credit report, sign up for ExtraCredit and check out the BuildIt tool. All in all, staying on top of your credit score can help you build a better financial future.
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