Leases are contracts, so you can't just break a lease if you want or need to move from your rental home. This is true even if you need to move for a job or to manage a family emergency. If you don't have legal grounds to break the lease, such as proof that your landlord won't make needed repairs, you'll have to persuade your landlord or property manager to let you out of the lease early.
If You Have Legal Grounds to Break the Lease
Determine whether you have grounds to break your lease. Read your lease to see if it offers a termination clause. If it doesn't, research the law in your area. Many states allow you to break your lease if your landlord refuses to make repairs or repeatedly enters your home without giving advance notice. Federal law allows military service members and their families to break a lease if the service member is relocated or deployed. Some states allow stalking and domestic violence victims to break a lease if doing so is necessary to protect the victim's safety. Other grounds for breaking a lease may include a landlord who won't take action against disruptive neighbors or if you need to move into a nursing home due to an illness or disability.
Begin the notification process. If your lease offers a termination clause, follow the instructions for notifying your landlord or property manager about your decision to leave. You may need to send your landlord or property manager a written notice or even go to court to terminate your tenancy, depending on your state's laws. Talk to a lawyer if you have any concerns about how to proceed.
Ask your landlord or property manager for a written acknowledgement of your lease termination. You may need this if the landlord later claims that you broke the lease without permission and either tries to sue you or provides negative information to a tenant screening service.
Move out. Provide your landlord or property manager with your new address so he can send you your security deposit or statement of damages.
If You Don't Have Legal Grounds to Terminate Your Lease
Develop a negotiation strategy. Since you have no legal right to terminate the lease, be prepared to compensate the landlord either financially or by working to find a new tenant. If you can find a new tenant to take over your lease before approaching your landlord, do so. Otherwise, come up with a plan for finding a new tenant, such as offering to pay for a "for rent" ad and showing the place to possible tenants.
Contact your landlord or property management company by phone or arrange for an in-person meeting. Explain that you would like to break the lease and ask if something can be worked out. If you are able to come to an agreement, get it in writing.
Comply with the terms of your agreement with the landlord or property manager and move out from your rental home.
Items you will need
- Copy of your lease
- Copy of applicable landlord-tenant laws
- Documentation that supports your legal right to break a lease, such as reports from housing inspectors and communications between you and your landlord.
- Check your lease to see if it includes a subleasing clause. In a subleasing arrangement, you continue to hold the lease, but someone else moves into your home and pays rent to you. Some landlords may resist a lease termination, but may allow subleasing.
- In many states, you aren't legally responsible for paying rent on a unit that's been re-rented. This means that if you break your 12-month lease after nine months, you are only legally responsible for paying rent during the remaining three months if your landlord can't find anyone else to take the unit. In many areas, the law requires landlords to make a good-faith effort to find a new tenant.
- If you need to break your lease because of an employment-related relocation, ask your employer for financial assistance toward meeting your rent obligation. This arrangement is sometimes called a "lease buyout." If your landlord or property manager knows that your employer will provide her with some financial compensation, she may be more willing to cooperate.
- Some communities offer landlord-tenant mediation services. Mediation may help you come to an amicable agreement with your landlord, helping you avoid legal and court fees.
- Terminating a lease without legal grounds, or permission of the landlord, can have an adverse effect on your finances or credit.
- Nolo: Tenant Rights to a Livable Place
- Nolo: Can my Landlord Make me Pay to Terminate the Lease?
- Nolo: Can I Break a Lease to Take a New Job?
- Nolo: Tenants' Rights to Privacy and Repairs FAQ
- Tenants Union of Washington State: Breaking A Lease
- MSN Real Estate: Breaking Your Lease
- Nolo: Legal Protections for Tenants Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence
- Military One Source: Terminating Your Lease Due to Deployment or PCS
- People's Law Library of Maryland: Breaking a Lease
- Inman News: Employer Willing to Buy out Tenant’s Lease
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