Want to Break Your Lease? Here’s How to Go About it

While it's not recommend, sometimes you will just have to break your lease

After months of searching, you finally find the perfect apartment. Your building is surrounded by tree-lined streets, you have your own parking spot, and an ice cream truck glides through the neighborhood every evening as angelic little kiddies line up patiently. As the first year in your new pad comes to a close, you eagerly sign a renewal lease. But once the ink has dried, a challenge threatens your ability to stay in the apartment.

Should you break your lease early?

First of all, know that a lease is a contract between you and your landlord and that breaking your lease is a breach of contract. It is not generally recommended to break your lease. However, there are some situations when it’s necessary. For example, you may be purchasing a home, facing a job transfer, or getting married.

Since these are no reasons that would be legally considered an excuse to break a lease, know that you might have to fight a penalty in court. Your landlord could ask you to pay for the months remaining on your lease. However, you might be able to avoid a penalty by doing the following:

  1. Give proper notice. Don’t secretly move in the middle of the night. Tell your landlord up front you need to break the lease. You might even be able to strike a deal when it comes to the balance payment.
  2. Find a tenant to take over the lease. If you find a suitable tenant to take over your lease, you might be able to avoid paying the remaining balance.
  3. Document everything. If you are arranging to provide another tenant, document your efforts just in case your landlord decides to take you to court. This way you can prove that you were trying to find a replacement.

Make plans to pay up. Despite your best efforts, a replacement tenant might not be approved. If that’s the case, be prepared to pay for the months remaining on the lease.  Generally, you’re not off the hook when it comes to the rent balance. In most cases, unless you’ve made a deal with your landlord, you’re still responsible for paying your fair share, so set aside money in your budget. If you skip town without paying, you could potentially get sued. However, there are some cases where you can legally break your lease. They are:

  1. Military duty. If you’re called for military duty, know that your landlord is required to let you out of your lease. You’re protected by the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act.
  2. You’re seriously ill. If you have a serious illness or injury, and it is affecting your ability to remain in your apartment, you might be able to break the lease without penalty. However, check your state’s landlord tenant laws to be sure. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a state-by-state list.
  3. You reside in an illegal unit. If you live in an illegal basement apartment, for example, you might be able to end the lease without a penalty.

Again, seek legal advice regarding your specific situation.

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