How Do I Break A Lease?

Sometimes unforeseen life changes like a new job, divorce or a health emergency for yourself or someone in your family require you to leave your apartment sooner than you planned. In other cases, your living conditions may be intolerable. Your landlord’s willingness to cooperate will largely determine the difficulty of the process.

What’s in the contract?

A lease agreement is a contract between landlord and tenant that is usually good for a year, with a new long-term lease or month-to-month options applied after that. Regardless of the length of your lease, your landlord will usually require from 30 to 60 days notice to terminate the contract. So don’t assume that in the eleventh month of a one-year lease, you are free to pick up and go the following month. Be sure to check the fine print to see how much notice your landlord needs.

If you need go away shortly, your landlord may be willing to work with you, especially if you can help find another tenant. She might also let you break the lease if you can simply pay for the remaining months.

Communication is key, so as soon as you think you need to break your rent, your priority call needs to be to the individual who gets your rent check. A broken lease, improperly handled, can hurt your credit rating, so proceed carefully and be sure you and your landlord have come to terms before you vacate.

When communication breaks down

If, by some reason, your management company or landlord is not willing to find an equitable solution to your premature departure, you may find yourself in court. If things progress that far, you could be liable for legal fees in addition to outstanding rent.

If intolerable living conditions are the reason that you’re leaving, the tables can turn, however. Be sure that you have documented your apartment’s problems with photographs, kept track of each phone call and held on to every piece of written correspondence. You will need a complete history of the conflict to protect yourself, in addition to legal representation. Check with your local rent board for resources and laws in your area.

In an ideal world, life would work in neat, contract-friendly increments, but it rarely does. Sometimes you need to break your lease for good and unforeseen reasons and, in other cases, landlords fall down on their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy place to live. Whatever your reason for going early, be sure you know your contractual obligations as well your legal protections.