When you signed the lease for your dream apartment six months ago, you were sure you’d live there for the one-year term. Now you’ve got a job offer in another state and have to move.
So can you break your lease, and if so, how much money will you owe? Whatever the reason you have for breaking your lease, here is how to do it:
- Check the lease. If the landlord breached the contract you may be able to break the lease without penalty.
- Read the Early Termination Clause. If your situation applies you can break the lease without penalty.
- If you are the victim of sexual violence, active duty military or the landlord violated your privacy you can likely break your lease without penalty.
- Work out a deal with your landlord. If you find a replacement tenant or sub-letter they may let you off the hook.
- If all else fails, be prepared to show up to court and make your case. Gather evidence to support your case.
- If your landlord wins a judgement, work out a payment plan.
When can you break your lease without penalty?
If your apartment is uninhabitable because the property is destroyed or the landlord failed to maintain the unit, it’s likely that you can legally move out. This situation is called constructive eviction because the landlord essentially “evicted” you by offering unlivable housing.
Depending on your state’s tenant laws, other reasons you may be legally allowed to break a lease include:
- Being a victim of domestic or sexual violence
- Starting active military duty (allowed by federal law)
- Landlord privacy violations such as removing doors, cutting off utilities and changing locks
Landlord’s obligation to find new tenant
In most states, your landlord must take “reasonable steps, not heroic ones” to rent your apartment to a new tenant and then credit rent collected from that person for the time left on your lease, according to Nolo.com an informational legal website.
If you are able to find a replacement tenant, you may be able to avoid charges from your landlord. Beware of unscrupulous landlords who may re-lease an apartment and still try to collect past due rent from you.
In Seattle, the law requires a landlord to make sure that the tenant hasn’t incurred undue hardship for breaking a lease, says Tamara Simon, designated broker with Koss Property Management.
“The landlord is obligated to try and rent out the property again as soon as possible,” says Simon. “When a new tenant begins to pay rent, the former tenant is no longer obligated.”
You can look up your state’s rules on tenants’ rights and breaking a lease on Nolo.
Costs of breaking your lease early
A rental lease is a contract, which means that you can’t legally break it without owing money for the remainder of the lease term plus any additional fees. If you need to move out early, review your lease for written notice and early termination requirements and penalties.
Many landlords won’t allow you to sublet to another tenant. If you want to sublet your apartment yourself, check your lease to make sure that’s even an option.
Possible costs of breaking a lease early include:
- Replacement tenant and background screening costs
- Lease revision fee
- Repayment of move-in discounts
- Forfeiture of deposit
Working with your landlord
If you have to break your lease, “being responsible and working with us in a professional manner goes a long way,” says Julie Landry, one of the owners of Avenue One Residential Leasing & Management in Seattle.
For example, if the current tenant finds a replacement tenant on their own and Avenue One screens and accepts that person, the company reduces the lease fee typically charged when a person breaks the lease to half the usual amount.
If a tenant breaks a lease before the agreed termination date, that person would have to pay the lease fee and rent until that property is re-rented, Landry says. Once the space is rented again, the former tenant would no longer have to pay the rent.
Landry says if a tenant wants to move out of an apartment a month early, they are willing to waive the final month’s rent provided that they are given enough notice and are able to find a replacement tenant in time.
“If the tenant communicates and works with us, we can usually come up with a solution that is fair to all concerned,” Landry says. “People can do this without owing a lot of money if they communicate with us.”