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How to Break an Apartment Lease

February 25, 2011 | Apartment Lifestyle, Everyday Living

Renters decide to break a lease for a number of valid reasons. You may have to relocate for a job, take on a roommate in these tough economic times, or move due to a breakup. Depending on your reasons, your landlord may be sympathetic and not penalize you. At worst, however, breaking a rental contract could have serious consequences.

You could be required to pay the rent for the remaining months on your lease; your landlord could take legal action against you; or your credit report could be impacted. To protect yourself, it’s important to learn how to break an apartment lease so it has the fewest negative consequences for you and your landlord.

Here is how to break an apartment lease:

Step 1: Read Your Rental Agreement

See if it states anything about how to break a lease or what the penalties are. Look for words like “early release,” “sublet” and “re-let.” It may indicate that you have to give notice of your intention to vacate the apartment one or two months in advance or that you have to find your replacement renter.

[How to Read Your Apartment Lease]

Step 2: Talk to Your Landlord

Your landlord is a person, so be honest about what’s going on, and he or she might be understanding. If you are a responsible renter and have a good relationship with your landlord, the process of breaking an apartment lease can go pretty smoothly.

[Get to Know Your Landlord. It's Important!]

To stay on good terms, give your landlord as much notice as possible. If you need to break your lease immediately and cannot give the standard amount of notice specified in your lease, offer to find someone to sublet from you. Keep in mind that if you are legally allowed to sublet, and you choose to do so, you’re still legally responsible for the rent and anything that goes wrong through the length of your rental contract.

Step 3: Find a New Renter

In many states, both you and your landlord are required to try to find a new renter to replace you if you move out early. In legal terms, this is known as mitigating the damages from breaking an apartment lease–in other words, lessening the rent amount still owed for the remaining months.

[Simplify Subletting with These Tips]

For the landlord, this often means re-listing your unit and showing the property to interested renters. If your landlord isn’t able to find a new renter quickly, you may be required to pay for the days the unit remains vacant. 

Special Circumstances

In many states, it’s possible to break an apartment lease without penalty under specific special circumstances. Common permissible reasons for breaking a lease include:

  • Your apartment is unlivable. You will most likely need proof of your issues, as well as your attempts to resolve them, and the actions, or lack thereof, the landlord took with regard to this matter.
  • You receive a military order to move to another area or get called in to active duty.
  • You get injured or become seriously ill.

To learn more about local laws and how to break an apartment lease in your state, contact a local renters’ rights organization, your local legal-aid office or a lawyer.

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