DISCLAIMER. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to be, legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only.
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.
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 Is the Cost to Break a Lease on an Apartment?
There’s no set cost to break a lease early, but you could end up paying a significant amount. If you can’t find anyone to take over your lease, for example, your landlord may insist that you pay the rent until a new renter moves in. You may also lose your deposit if you break your lease prematurely.
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, enquire about legal aid in your area. Local housing agencies and consumer protection attorneys can also help.
COVID-19 and Eviction
Signed into law in March 2020, the CARES act made it much harder for landlords to evict residential tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially, the CARES act put a moratoriumon eviction for nonpayment of rent for covered tenants via a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order. This order has been extended through June 30, 2021.
Breaking a Car Lease
Financial problems have a knock-on effect. If you have to 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. You can use BuildIt to record utility payments, too. All in all, staying on top of your credit score can help you build a better financial future.