How to break a lease

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How to break a lease

Oftentimes there are events in our lives that require us to make sudden and drastic changes. Moving home can be stressful, and if you need to break a lease in order to do so you might be wondering where to start or what the consequences might be.

When it comes to canceling a lease, there are right and wrong ways to do things. The good news is that laws have been made to protect both landlord and tenant throughout the process and they reflect the reality in life that moving homes is sometimes an absolute necessity. 

In order to end your lease on good terms, it’s important to know your rights as a tenant, as well as the potential consequences. Here is what you need to know about how to break a lease.

What happens if you break your lease?

First off, the rules for breaking an apartment lease vary depending on where you live. Different states, and even cities, have different rules. Highly populated cities, where property managers are more susceptible to lease terminations, tend to have more restrictions or fees when breaking a lease.

That being said, most states have laws in place that state that a landlord must make a reasonable effort to re-rent the space to a new tenant. Once a new tenant is found and starts paying rent, is when your payments will stop and your lease will end. 

As a tenant, it is your responsibility to let your landlord know your plans, submit them in writing (by mail or email), and continue your correspondence with the next steps forward. It may also be your responsibility to help your landlord find a new tenant by creating a listing, fielding prospects, and communicating with potential tenants.  What you don’t want to do is disappear and move out without telling your tenant.

If you choose to break your lease and fail to alert your landlord – hoping that everything will resolve on its own – it could spell trouble both in the future and in the present. For one thing, many property managers may ask to talk to your previous landlord as a reference which could make finding a new place to live difficult.

How much does it cost to break your lease?

The cost of breaking your lease can vary dramatically and will depend on where you live as well as the terms of your agreement. Breaking your lease can cost nothing, but it could also cost several thousand dollars. 

The three most common costs associated with breaking a lease involve flat fees for early termination, paying until a new tenant is found, or paying the entire lease upfront. To find out how much it could potentially cost, check the early termination clause on your lease agreement. In addition to the costs, the lease may also provide the steps you need to take in order to break your lease.

Are there legal consequences of a broken lease agreement?

If a landlord is unsuccessful in their attempts to re-rent the property, the tenant is still legally obligated to pay the rent until the conditions of the lease terms have been met. This means that if you break a lease and fail to make payment, there could be legal consequences.

The landlord would be well within their legal rights to take you to court and sue for any missed payments or damage. Your credit score could also be affected if your landlord takes you to small claims court or if they send your debt to a collection company that reports to credit agencies.

Tips for breaking a lease the right way 

Canceling a lease is a process that many Americans go through on a daily basis and it’s possible to do things the right way. Don’t just disappear and stop all communication – taking action in several standard ways can help things go smoothly when getting out of a lease.

Read your lease agreement

Before you take any steps to break your lease, it’s important to know what the lease agreement states. The lease agreement will provide all of the terms that you are legally obliged to abide by.

In the lease agreement, there should be an early termination or break clause. It could provide details such as any fees associated with breaking your lease, including how many days’ worth of notice you have to give, though it’s usually 30 days. 

Talk to your landlord

It’s always best to be upfront with your landlord and let them know directly why your situation has changed – whether it’s because you lost your job, are relocating for a new opportunity, are starting a new relationship, or any other reason. Most landlords are willing to work things out so that both parties can mitigate their losses.

When you are talking to your landlord, it is also best to submit requests in writing. Communicate through email or text as much as possible so that you can save these conversations and use them as a point of reference.

Help find a new renter to take over your lease

It’s in both the tenant’s and landlord’s best interest to mitigate losses – and is usually stated so by law. For this reason, it can be your responsibility to help find a resolution. This means that you will more than likely play some type of helping hand in finding a new tenant.

This could include things like making renting listings on various online platforms, fielding applicants, and communicating with prospects. Typically you will either want to find someone interested in subletting, or re-renting.

  • Subletting: Check your lease agreement to see if subletting is an option. Sub letting involves re-renting out the original tenant’s apartment to a new tenant that acts as a third party. The original tenant is typically still on the hook to meet all the additional lease terms (including rental price), and thus would still be responsible to pay for any and all damage caused to the property. 
  • Re-renting: If your landlord is able to re-rent the property to a new tenant, then you will no longer be responsible for the rent payments. The difference between subletting and renting is that your name will no longer be on the lease.

Be prepared to pay rent and early termination fees 

It’s extremely important to remain cordial and professional throughout your communication with your landlord. At the end of the day, know that you both want the same thing. That being said, you will want to have some money saved up in case you absolutely have to pay termination fees or a few more months of rent.

Helping to find a new tenant will go a long way to ensuring you won’t have to pay a mountain of fees. In helping with finding a new tenant, be sure to communicate any requirements for renting the apartment, schedule showings, either virtually or in person, as well as screen any potential prospects over the phone. 

You’ll also want to make sure that your furniture and belongings are out of the apartment, and that your utilities are paid and up to date as soon as possible so that it is easier for the landlord to make any needed renovations in order for them to rent the property out more easily.

Check with local tenants unions

Local tenant unions can be found online, on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and by calling your state or city to see what resources are available for tenants. 

These groups help to highlight important information in regards to monetary assistance, common tactics, and experiences in the legalities of the matter, as well as how things like the pandemic affected the situation and rights of tenants. Not all areas have them, but it’s always good to check.

Get everything in writing 

When communicating and dealing with your landlord, be sure to communicate via text and email as much as possible. Do not delete these correspondences as you will want to use them for your own reference and for communication down the line.

In addition to communicating via written mediums, it is always a good idea to submit your notices, requests, and any other correspondence in writing. This will prevent any confusion and set clear expectations for both you and your landlord moving forward. 

Get legal help

Sometimes there are unpleasant situations that may arise. If you have met the conditions of the lease, but still feel like you’re being taken advantage of it’s best to seek legal counsel. 

A law firm that represents both tenants and landlords can help you to better understand your rights, and will usually try to resolve the situation in a way that maximizes the benefits of both parties. This could increase the chances that your landlord will work with you on breaking your lease if they have been hesitant to do so.

Exceptions where you can legally break a lease

Most states have similar laws when it comes to legal exceptions for breaking a lease. There are also many different unique situations that could apply to early termination without fees. Some of the most common exceptions include:

  • You or your child are victims of domestic abuse. 
  • You’re an active-duty military service member.
  • Your privacy rights have been violated.
  • Your rental unit is unsafe or violates safety codes.
  • You are a senior citizen moving into a residential facility or nursing home.

Communication is Key

If you are needing to break the lease, for whatever reason, know that the law is made to maximize the benefits for both parties. Throughout the entire process, it’s important to be extremely transparent and as direct as possible. 

That’s why communication is so important. If you’re able to discuss options with your landlord and make adjustments when you need to, breaking your lease will be a much smoother process and it will be more likely that you will be able to end the lease on good terms.


Can you get out of a lease early?

It is possible to break a lease early and you may be eligible to legally break the lease with no fees associated if one of the exceptions deemed by law have occurred. In many states, your landlord is also required to make a reasonable attempt to re-rent the apartment no matter what the reason for breaking the lease is.

What happens if you break an apartment lease?

Breaking a lease can cost anywhere from zero dollars to several thousand depending on the reason you break the lease, the early termination clause in the lease agreement, and your landlord’s willingness to work with you.

What happens if I surrender my lease?

Surrendering the lease can happen in two ways. For starters, maybe you and your landlord agree to surrender the property. Another possibility is that you both accidentally engage in an act that is inconsistent with the lease terms. In both cases, the property will be taken over by the landlord as soon as the tenant vacates the property.

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