How To Break A Lease?

A tenant breaking a lease has many reasons to do so — but how can one legally break a lease and what are the consequences?

Many individuals sign a lease agreement with the hope and excitement of living in their new home or apartment. Usually, the idea is to enjoy a lease term of at least a year. Nevertheless, a rental property or the landlord/tenant relationship is often not what it seemed at first. In other cases, a sudden life change might imply that the lease just will not work anymore. If you are going through any of these circumstances, you are probably wondering how to break a lease. While every state has different landlord-tenant laws, we have a general guide that will answer the question, “How to break a lease?” Read on to learn about the fundamentals of early lease termination and some of your basic tenant rights

How to break a lease?

To keep yourself well protected, it is essential to understand the process of breaking a lease properly. You need to have a clear grasp of all the steps so that there are minimum negative repercussions for both you and your landlord. Here are the important steps and considerations before ending your lease early:

Read your lease agreement

The initial step to take when you are thinking about breaking a lease is to completely go over your rental agreement. Read each part to check whether it incorporates any data regarding how to escape an apartment lease or what the penalties are. Search for words like “early release,” “sublet” and “relet” and when you find them, note down the page number so that you can read it again later if it is important. The lease agreement might demonstrate that you need to give notice of your intention to vacate the apartment a couple of months in advance or that you need to find a replacement renter. Many leases will likewise have an option for ending the agreement immediately, yet they often accompany heavy expenses and a loss of your security deposit.

Talk to your landlord

The landlord-tenant relationship can sometimes get tricky, however open communication and being completely direct and transparent are the most ideal approaches to deal with a delicate circumstance like leaving before the lease is done. During the process, email your landlord and building manager as early as possible. Your landlord might be a business person, but they are human too — so if you are direct about the circumstance, they may understand where you are coming from (however, there is always a possibility that they may not). Be that as it may, in case you are a dependable tenant and have a good relationship with your landlord, the process of breaking an apartment lease early may go without a hitch. To remain friendly, keep notifying your landlord as often as you can. If you need to break the lease immediately and cannot give the standard amount of notice mentioned in your rental agreement, offer to find somebody who can sublet from you.

Find a new renter to take over your lease

In most of the states, both you and your landlord will have to try to find a replacement renter if you move out early (it is important). This is also called “mitigating the damages” from breaking an apartment lease. In other words, it is lowering the rent amount still owed for the remaining months. There are two possible situations for finding a new renter: subletting and re-renting. Let us take a look at each:

  • Subletting: This is when you or your landlord find someone who is ready to take over your current lease. While they will likely sign their own sublease agreement, the lease will still be under your name. Thus, making you legally responsible if they smash a hole in the wall or do not pay rent for a few months. Keep in mind that even if you find a subletter, you will not get your security deposit back until the end of the original lease term.
  • Re-renting: Re-renting includes finding a new tenant for the unit. However, unlike subletting, the new tenant will sign a brand new lease agreement and pay their own security deposit. For the landlord, this often requires re-listing your unit and showing the property to interested renters.

On the off chance that your landlord cannot track down another tenant quickly, you might need to pay for the days the unit stays empty. Leasing your apartment is not the landlord’s main concern, so finding a tenant to replace you might assist with speeding things along. Keep in mind, your landlord does not need to go with the first individual who wants to sublet or re-rent your apartment. There are various things that may hold a landlord back from choosing to lease to a candidate, including financial assessment, rental history and accessibility of assets. In certain states, both you and your landlord are lawfully liable for attempting to track down another leaseholder. Notwithstanding, since you stand to lose a huge amount of cash if you cannot find one, it is a smart idea to invest in a ton of energy all along. Check with your friends or post a social media status to see whether anybody you know is searching for a spot to live.

Consider lease termination offers

In case you cannot take out time to find another tenant or you are in a circumstance where you need to immediately leave the apartment, consider the termination offer point by point in your lease. Breaking a lease agreement usually requires paying a few months’ rent and relinquishing your security deposit altogether, however every lease will be unique. Once more, it is a smart idea to check in with your landlord now on the grounds that there is always a possibility that they will lessen the fees in question or return your security deposit (regardless of whether the lease says they will not). Keep in mind that despite the present circumstance being hard for you, it is also a tremendous monetary weight on your landlord who is relying upon your rent money every month as a substantial piece of their income. A decent landlord-tenant relationship can go a long way toward making the circumstance more endurable for the two parties, so ensure that you remain positive and patient..

Be prepared to pay early termination fees

Breaking a lease is not cheap for you or your landlord, so do not be shocked if you need to suffer lease penalties. In the event that you do not pay to end your lease promptly, contingent upon where you live, you are liable for paying your rent until the time you or your landlord finds somebody to sublet re-rent your apartment. In many states, if your landlord puts forth an attempt to find another renter and cannot — you will need to keep paying the rent until your lease term is up. Regardless of whether your landlord can discover a renter but cannot charge them however much they charged you, you might have to pay the difference.

Check with local tenants’ unions

In numerous spaces, particularly in bigger urban areas, there are tenants’ unions set up that can assist renters with taking care of landlord-tenant disputes or help with breaking lease agreements early. Tenant unions are a good asset for knowing the particular laws in your city and state with regard to leases, so it is worth checking with one close to the start of the process to know your rights as a tenant. Tenants’ unions may likewise be useful if your landlord is difficult to reach, does not invest in work to find another renter or is trying to charge you more than what is lawful. A union might offer a solution that you have not considered.

Get everything in writing before breaking a lease

From the absolute first conversation you have with your landlord about possibly breaking your lease early, get everything recorded as a hard copy — particularly any conversations with regards to cash. This will secure both of you legally if for any reason the circumstance becomes litigious. The most ideal approach to deal with this is to ensure your conversations are through email. On the off chance that you do have any conversations via telephone or face to face, take notes. When the conversation is finished, send your landlord an email of what you covered during the conversation and get their composed affirmation that what you sent is right. Just send a basic note that says, “Hi, simply needed to ensure I understood our conversation points correctly — can you confirm this is what we agreed?”

Seek legal advice

If you feel like you are in a situation where your landlord is trying to take advantage, you can provide evidence that your apartment is unlivable or that you are being charged too much for rent. It is a good idea to get legal advice.

Know the exceptions

Each state has a different law regarding breaking lease agreements. However, there are many that permit a tenant to leave their apartment before the lease term is up if there are special circumstances.

What happens if you break an apartment lease?

Early termination of your lease without legal grounds may imply that you might be required to pay full rent for the rest of the months on your lease. You can also find yourself subject to legal action from your landlord, and/or receive a negative mark on your credit report. Moreover:

You could face some hefty fees

At the point when you sign a lease, you are consenting to pay a set amount as a trade-off for occupancy for a set timeframe. Landlords are maintaining a business, and they are not generally in a rush to surrender the monetary terms of this contract. Subsequently, breaking a lease normally accompanies a fine. Sometimes the fine is equal to a one or two month’s rent. On other occasions, you are confronted with the monetary weight of covering the rent for the rest of your lease term, whether or not you are really living in your apartment or not. You may likewise need to forfeit your security deposit, on the off chance that you paid one. The most ideal approach to discover what charges you may look for breaking a lease are to, first, look in your rental contract and check whether early release fines are referenced, and provided that this is true, what they are. Then, find out what your landlord has to say.

You could get sued

In the event that you have a litigious landlord and you are hell bent on escaping your lease early, you might wind up facing a lawsuit. While it would most likely be uncommon to wind up in court for an early lease end, especially in the event that you have been a generally good tenant, it is still a potential outcome that you should think about. Luckily, if you are responsible and maintain the terms set out by your landlord you ought to be fine. In the event that your landlord gives you expenses that should be paid, pay them. If they say you cannot escape the contract, keep paying the rent and either stay on as a tenant or move somewhere else. As long as you do not simply move out and stop to pay rent, you can probably avoid getting the legal system included.

You could hurt your credit score

Credit scores are numbers appended to your monetary personality that enlighten creditors regarding your previous relationship with debt. They are utilized for everything from purchasing vehicles and getting loans to finding your next apartment. Any unpaid debt can seriously hurt your financial assessment and make it extraordinarily hard to get new loans or rental contracts. Reasons behind breaking a lease might end on your credit score if you do not pay related fines and your landlord takes you to small claims court, or on the other hand if you do not pay related fines and your landlord sends your debt to a collection agency. Indeed, the most ideal approach to prevent this potential result is to find what the rules are for breaking your lease early and to follow them. Escaping a lease all alone does not influence your FICO assessment; it is only if you attempt to evade the monetary obligations that show up with doing so.

You could have trouble renting your next apartment

Landlords need tenants they can trust, and a past filled with breaking leases early — regardless of whether it only happened once —  may strike them as a warning. This is particularly evident if your lease finished antagonistically and you have had a few fights with your past landlord as a result. Regardless of whether you did not wind up in court or with a thump on your credit score, a few landlords will call past landlords for references, and if they find out that you broke your agreement they probably should not take a risk on renting to you. The most ideal approach to stay away from this is to be transparent with any possible future landlords concerning why you broke your lease and how you approached doing it. If you had a valid justification for breaking your lease early, went by the book, and finished things in a friendly manner, it could really be a chance to show that you are a responsible tenant who is worth renting to.

Average cost to break an apartment lease

Rules encompassing breaking a lease differ from one lease to another and rental laws change from state to state, so make sure to read your particular lease contract for terms and conditions with regards to your leaving. As a rule, the lease might give the tenant the choice to pay an “early termination fee.” If this is the situation, tenants can hope to pay one to two months’ rent to leave the lease agreement.

Whether or not a tenant is given an early termination fee, practically all leases express that a tenant should give the landlord no less than a 30 day’s notice when moving out. In the event that the tenant neglects to give the landlord appropriate notice, they might be needed to pay for the remaining months’ rent – assuming the landlord cannot find a replacement. If the tenant or landlord can find an appropriate and qualified substitute tenant, then the tenant who is breaking the lease will presently not need to pay for the remaining months’ rent.

Be that as it may, there is one proviso. As per U.S. News, “if the landlord needs to re-rent the unit at a lower value, you might need to pay the difference.” In other words, if the first tenant’s rental rate was $1,000 per month, however the landlord was only able to find another tenant willing to pay $900 every month, then the first tenant would need to pay the landlord the difference in cost of $100 per month.

Breaking lease due to fear of safety

No laws, anywhere in the United States, explicitly permit tenants to end their lease dependent on the state of the surrounding neighborhood. All things considered, landlords have certain legal responsibilities that include safety. These obligations are covered by the inferred warranty of habitability, a legal concept that requires landlords to keep their rental units in decent condition.

By and large, either the warranty of habitability or explicit state laws will expect landlords to keep all locks — both to a building and to an individual apartment — in great working order. Broken windows and doors should be fixed. In the event that non-occupants are entering a building without consent from a tenant, that is an immense issue (and more likely than not a break of the warranty of habitability).

On the off chance that your building is hazardous for one of these reasons — and the landlord will not make fixes in the wake of being informed regarding the issue in writing and given a good amount of time to do so — a tenant might have the option to end their lease completely. Yet, each state will be different, and you should audit your own state’s laws to understand your privileges.

Landlords may likewise be required to shield tenants from other tenants. On the off chance that an individual renter is threatening you or is taking part in criminal activities, like selling drugs, you ought to tell your landlord. In certain states, if a landlord neglects to stop the illegal or threatening conduct, it is viewed as a break of the warranty of habitability — and may permit you to end your lease.

The chance of a landlord or building manager being a danger is a genuine bad dream for renters. On the off chance that this happens to you, make a quick move. Many state laws permit a tenant to break a lease quickly, without any inquiries posed, if the tenant is the victim of specific violations and crimes, including stalking and harassment — including New York and Texas.

To take advantage of these lawful securities, you will by and large need to provide evidence of an occurrence with your landlord. This might be a court record, like an order of protection, or simply the statement of a victim advocate. Focus on your safety. In the event that you feel threatened in your home, you probably have options under state law to end your lease rapidly and without penalty. If a landlord is physically harassing you, you may also have the option to record a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, a government law that protects tenants from discrimination.

A landlord and a tenant can generally settle on a joint decision to end a lease early. So in the event that you feel unsafe in your rental, start by conversing with your landlord. Be as detailed as could be expected — tell them precisely why you do not have a sense of safety and why it would be to their greatest advantage to permit you to move out ahead of schedule.

Numerous landlords would prefer not to put time and cash into a court proceeding, and may favor arranging a lease break instead of battling a tenant in court. In any case, this might require some compromise on your part. Much of the time, the landlord might need you to pay a fee. Notwithstanding, a trade off with your landlord is frequently the least demanding approach to end a lease.

How can you break your lease without penalty?

Some of the most common reasons you might legally break a lease early without repercussions include:

Landlord fails to maintain the property

In most states, landlords should maintain a fit and habitable property in the following ways:

  • Adhering to health and safety codes
  • Keeping all common areas clean
  • Performing repairs
  • Providing proper trash bins
  • Providing running water at all times

If a tenant thinks that there is a significant health or safety violation, they have two options:

  • Complaint to the department of public health: Get in touch with your health department to register a complaint against your landlord. They will open a claim and send someone out to look at the issue. If they are able to confirm your complaint, they will send notice to your landlord asking them to address and fix the problem within a specific number of days (varies from state to state). Make sure to check your local statutes.
  • Complaint to the landlord: Most states need landlords to fix a significant health or safety violation within a specific amount of time, with a promise to follow up in the case that the landlord does not comply. In such situations, a tenant may legally break their lease. Typically, the tenant needs to give their landlord — in writing — some form of a notice of intent to vacate. Based on state laws, a tenant has to wait for a specific number of days after their notice to vacate is sent before they can move out unless the violation is incredibly serious and detrimental to the residents’ health.

When complaining directly to your landlord, ensure that you put it all in writing. You may need documentation/proof in the future if things end up in court.

Illegal apartment

If you live in an apartment that is thought to be illegal in your state (some states regulate basement apartments, for instance), you may get to break your lease.

Tenant is active duty in the military

Members of the U.S. military are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act when required to break a lease early due to a change of station orders. If a service member needs to relocate for a period of at least 90 days, the tenant can legally give their notice to end the lease agreement along with evidence of their official orders. In most cases, you need to give notice at least 30 days prior to the desired move-out date.

Landlord illegally enters the property

Landlords are usually needed to give tenants at least a 24 hours’ notice before they have the right to enter the property. Landlords can legally enter your property to:

  • Inspect the property
  • Make repairs
  • To show the property to prospective tenants

If a landlord repeatedly tries to or succeeds in entering a property without appropriate prior notice, tries to enter for reasons that are not legally permitted or to harasses a tenant, the tenant may have legal grounds to break their lease. To do so, it is typically required that the tenant obtain a court order telling the landlord to stop. The tenant can provide notice of their intent to terminate the lease if the landlord violates the court order again.

Tenant is a victim of domestic violence

If a tenant has been a victim of domestic violence, they are entitled to break their lease legally. In those cases:

  • Provide notice within at least 30 days prior to moving out
  • The act of domestic violence typically must have occurred within the last three to six months.
  • The tenant should provide the landlord a written notice of their intent to break the lease due to an act of domestic violence

Landlords might demand confirmation of abusive behavior at home. This can incorporate an order of protection or a police report for the particular occurrence. Whenever in truth, tenants are just liable for rent installments up to the day they clear. You may likewise leave your lease ahead of schedule because of serious safety conditions, similar to a genuine physical issue or ailment. An attorney can assist you with dealing with your landlord, or they might encourage you to record a suit in a small claims court. The last is not as expensive as other kinds of legal recourse and coils shield you from paying an unfair sum to your landlord.


Whatever your reason for breaking a lease early, you will be required to plan for the worst-case scenario. Educate yourself on your rights and responsibilities as a renter regarding the lease. If you do your part by following the above rules — chances are that things will work out in your favor.

John Otero

John Otero

John Otero is an industry practitioner with more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry. He has held various senior management roles both in the insurance companies and insurance brokers during this span of time. He began his insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. He got licensed as a producer while working at that agency and progressed to serve as an office manager. Working in the agency is how he fell in love with the industry. He saw firsthand the good that insurance consumers experienced by having the proper protection. John has diverse experience in corporate & consumer insurance services, across a range of vocations. His specialties include Major Corporate risk management and insurance programs, and Financial Lines He has been instrumental in making his firm as one of the leading organizations in the country in generating sustainable rapid growth of the company while maintaining service excellence to clients.

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