Whether it is a change in your financial situation, as the loss of a job, or in your personal life, like a new job, a divorce or the arrival of a baby, there are many reasons why you may need to break your lease. However, the chances are small that your landlord will be thrilled about the situation.
A lease is a legally binding contract between the tenant and the landlord and breaking it can have long-lasting consequences. It is not a decision to take lightly.
Here are the things you need to keep in mind when you are considering breaking your lease and how to make the process as painless as possible.
1. What are the consequences of breaking a lease?
If you don’t have any legal basis to break your lease, you might face some dire consequences depending on the state you live in and the virulence of your landlord.
- You may need to pay the remainder of your lease, at least until the landlord finds a new tenant to rent the property
- You may lose your security deposit to cover the costs for your landlord to re-rent the place, like marketing fee or loss of income
- Your credit score could take a hit if your landlord decides to report you to report you as delinquent to the main credit bureaus, which would hurt your chances to find a new place to live
- Your landlord could engage in a civil lawsuit against you to recoup back rent payments if you refuse to pay off the lease balance
2. When can you legally break a lease?
In some cases, you may be able to break your lease legally, which protects you from legal and financial consequences. Depending on the state you live in, these situations may include:
- The landlord does not maintain the property up to health and safety standards: there is no heat, no running water mold, etc. It could be considered as a breach from the landlord and allows you to break the lease legally
- The landlord is harassing you or entering the property without legal reasons (to make repairs or show the apartment to prospective tenants for example) and notice
- If you are active duty military and have received orders to relocate for at least 90 days, you are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
- The property is not a legal renting unit
- You are the victim of a documented domestic violence act
3. How to break a lease?
If you are set on breaking your lease, here are some steps to follow to make the process as smooth as possible:
- Read through your contract: there may be an early termination clause detailing the steps to follow when breaking your contract, including how much notice to give and how to notify your landlord, whether you are required to find a replacement tenant, and which situations (like a job transfer or divorce for example) may allow you to break your lease
- Give your landlord as much notice as possible
- Find a sub-tenant (if allowed in the contract) or a new tenant for the remainder of your lease
- Document every conversation you may have with your landlord regarding the situation, especially when it comes to money
- If you are in a difficult situation and pressed by time, consider making your landlord a termination offer to help alleviate some of the costs incurred by your departure, like forfeiting your security deposit
- Finally, if you are having some issues with your landlord, consult your local tenant’s union to know your rights and answer any questions you may have