How to Break Your Lease — The Right Way

Real estate, Money

Couple moving house Sometimes you have to move out of your apartment before your lease is up. Unfortunately, not paying for your full lease can result in fees, lawsuits, and other unhappy situations. If your landlord takes you to court, you can be charged fees and sued for lost rent. Here’s how to avoid a fiasco when you’re forced to move.

Legitimate Reasons for Breaking a Lease

You have certain rights as a renter, and you may be able to break your lease if your landlord doesn’t honor those rights. Residential rental units should be habitable and in compliance with housing and health codes—meaning they should be structurally safe, sanitary, weatherproofed, and include adequate water, electricity, and heat. During the length of your lease, rent cannot change; however, on a month-to-month renting basis you must be given notice before a rent increase (typically 30 days). A landlord must give prior notice (typically 24 hours) before entering your premises and can normally only do so to make repairs or in case of an emergency.

If your landlord does not maintain a safe, clean, liveable environment (this includes reasonable heating and cooling features), you may be able to move out on grounds of “constructive eviction.” This means the landlord has basically forced you out by making living conditions such that you couldn’t stay. You shouldn’t, however, do repairs yourself and simply deduct it from your next month’s rent, unless there is a provision for doing so in your lease terms. You may be able to take your landlord to court over repairs you were forced to make on your own dime, given the landlord didn’t make the repairs in a timely fashion. Documented (and especially repeated) failures by your landlord to maintain the unit are grounds for moving out, but your may want to get a lawyer involved.

How to Break Your Lease Professionally

How you go about breaking your lease can make a big difference, both financially and in how sour things end up with your landlord. Make sure to do the following:

  • Give notice. Giving 30 days is typically required, although it doesn’t mean you can break your contract easily. While you may still be accountable for fees, giving your landlord enough time to find a new tenant will leave you less likely to be sued for lost rent.
  • Have everything in writing, including numbers, dates, and other appropriate specifics. This includes letters with requests for maintenance, responses to an illegal rent increase, or your notice for moving out. Document apartment conditions upon move-in and move-out with photographs. Have a copy of the lease you signed. When you move out, walk through the place with management so you can tell a judge that the landlord had nothing to complain about when you left.
  • Don’t leave nasty voice mails, as they could be used in court.

Before Signing a Lease

If you may have to end your lease early, consider renting from a person rather than a corporation.  Corporations (and a manager who’s bound by the rules) are less flexible than a homeowner. If you let your potential landlord know when you may have to leave, you may be lucky enough to have the lease length adjusted.

Read a lease agreement thoroughly before signing anything! Make sure you know who is responsible for what, and even that the contract is legal (not requiring you to repair a broken furnace, for instance). An illegal contract obviously won’t hold up in court, but you should always, always read your contract.