10 Possible Ways to Break Your Apartment Lease

Moving guys

Moving out of apartment | iStock

Renters know a lease agreement is considered a legally-binding contract. But what happens if you need to move out early? The best way to get out of a lease is to come to a mutual agreement with your landlord. Be sure to advise your landlord early on that you intend to move out before your lease is up. If you lack a legal justification, the negotiation may result in you forfeiting your security deposit and agreeing to help find a new tenant. But with any luck, at least you won’t be stuck paying rent on an empty apartment for the remainder of your lease.

If your landlord agrees to release you from the contract, make sure the terms are agreed upon in a written document that releases you, the tenant, from any further financial obligation. If your landlord agrees to return your security deposit, ensure the new agreement explicitly guarantees a return of the deposit according to the terms set out in the lease. Getting every detail in writing is paramount.

In some cases, the lease itself can help tenants justify early termination. First, check your lease agreement for an early termination clause. Landlords are not required to include one, but if you find this clause hidden in the pages of your lease, it just might give you an out. The early termination clause should outline what situations would constitute a justified early termination, such as a job transfer or divorce.

Still not sure if you have a justified excuse? Check your state’s laws in regards to tenants’ rights. One justified reason for lease termination is “constructive eviction,” or the landlord’s failure to provide fit and livable housing. In other words, if there is substantial destruction to the property or your apartment can be considered unlivable, the landlord has, in a way, evicted you — releasing you from the lease. Also, renters from all states who are entering active military service may leave prior to the end of the lease term after giving notice.

Moving guys in apartment

Moving guys | Thinkstock

Again, legal justifications vary by the state where you reside, so there are likely several situations that could help you legally break your lease without penalty. Here are some of the most common reasons a tenant may be justified in terminating a lease early:

  • The unit is unlivable, condemned, or illegal
  • Tenant is starting military service
  • Landlord has broken lease terms
  • Tenant is a victim of domestic violence, or received threats from a neighbor
  • Landlord refuses to complete essential repairs
  • Landlord interferes with “quiet enjoyment,” such as violating tenant’s privacy
  • Tenant experiences a profound life change, such as divorce or job relocation
  • Either tenant or landlord declares bankruptcy
  • Tenant or family member contracts serious illness
  • Tenant is moving to an elderly care or assisted living facility

These justifications may or may not apply to your state or your circumstances. Hopefully, either your state’s laws or your landlord will be sympathetic to your situation. But if you decide to break your lease without justification, you may want to seek legal help to negotiate a fair agreement or to deal with an uncooperative landlord.

According to Nolo, since your lease is considered a contract, it obligates you to pay rent for the entire term. However, in most states, landlords cannot just let the apartment sit empty and then sue you for rental payments. Landlords must make reasonable steps to find a new tenant and credit the new rent to your debt. This is called “the landlord’s duty to mitigate damages.”

For cases in which a landlord is refusing to take steps to re-rent the apartment, Nolo provides a sample letter for tenants to send, informing the landlord of the duty to mitigate. If your landlord still refuses to cooperate, you may end up in a legal battle, in which case you’ll need documented proof that the landlord failed to mitigate.

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