When life throws you a curveball, sometimes it’s just not feasible to stay at the same address. Maybe you’ve gotten married, or you’ve accepted a job offer that requires relocating. Whatever the case, life happens, and sometimes, that means breaking a lease. However, since a lease agreement is a binding legal contract, breaking one should be approached with great care and sensitivity.
Here are the steps you need to minimize any legal ramifications that may occur if you choose to break a lease before its end date:
How to Break Your Lease Early
1. Review your lease agreement
When you realize that you need to break your lease, one of the first actions you should take is to pull out your lease agreement and give it a careful read through. Being informed is important, and in cases like this, it pays to know your options.
Be on the lookout for answers to these critical questions:
- Does your lease agreement have an early termination clause?
- Has there been a breach of contract that you can use as justification for breaking the lease?
- Will you lose your security deposit?
- Are you required to find your replacement?
- Can you sublet?
- Will you need to pay the difference of the rent you would’ve paid if you had stayed on?
The answers to these questions will determine whether or not it’s possible to break your lease with minimal hassle and provide you with a stronger exit strategy.
2. Talk to your landlord
As in most relationships, communication is key. Take the following advice to heart when preparing to make your request to your landlord:
Be open and honest, and remember his or her side of the issue
When speaking to your landlord, opening up is important. Let your landlord know that breaking your lease is a matter that is out of your control and that if you could do things another way, you would. Although your landlord is running a business, he or she is also a human being who has probably dealt with dramatic changes in his or her personal or professional life in the past.
Despite your rent making up a portion of his or her livelihood, if you honestly explain your situation to your landlord, he or she will hopefully sympathize and let you off lightly, even when the lease agreement says differently.
Be prepared and informed before your discussion
Your landlord is also more likely to be flexible if you present fair compromises or solutions. This is when knowing about the lease termination clause, what constitutes a breach of contract, and whether or not you’ll lose your security deposit will come in handy.
Having that information in your back pocket shows your landlord that while you respect his or her opinion, you also know your rights and can back up your requests with evidence taken directly from your lease agreement.
Give plenty of advance notice
As soon as you know that you need to move out, let your landlord know with a notice of intent to vacate. Giving as much advance notice to your landlord as possible will make his or her life easier because it allows him or her more time to find your replacement or figure out an arrangement so he or she isn’t losing money after you move out.
And if you extend this courtesy, giving enough advance notice could influence whether or not you and your landlord arrive at an agreeable resolution.
3. Consider reletting or subletting
If you’re having trouble negotiating a clean break with your landlord, consider finding a new renter to either relet or sublet the property. Finding a replacement is a great way to assuage your landlord’s fears about losing money when you move out, and depending on which option you choose, it can help make the transition go more smoothly.
Here are the differences between the two options:
- Reletting: Reletting is when you or your landlord find a new renter to take over your lease. The new renter will sign a whole new lease agreement with your landlord, which will then void your agreement and release you from any legal obligations. And if you find the new renter yourself, your landlord will definitely appreciate how you’re relieving him or her of a significant burden, making it easier to leave on friendly (and cheaper) terms.
- Subletting: Similar to reletting, subletting is when you find a new renter to take over your lease. However, in this case, the new renter signs a sublease agreement with you and pays rent to you. This means that your name remains on the original lease agreement, making you responsible for anything that happens to the property or if the new renter makes a late rent payment. Because your original lease is technically still active, you won’t get your security deposit back until the end of your lease. Not all landlords allow subletting, so be sure to check your lease agreement or ask your landlord before identifying a new renter.
Once you find your new renter, regardless of if you’re reletting or subletting, make sure you have the blessing of your landlord. At the end of the day, it’s still your landlord’s property, so making sure that he or she approves of the new tenant is of utmost importance.
4. Use a lease termination
If reletting or subletting doesn’t satisfy your landlord, you could also end the lease yourself with a lease termination letter. Abiding by the lease agreement is a two-way street. If your landlord does anything that violates the terms of the agreement, you are completely in your rights to vacate the premises without incurring any penalties.
Only use this strategy as a last resort, and only if your landlord is truly legally culpable and being unreasonable.
Check to see if any of these claims are true:
- Landlord illegally enters the property: Has your landlord failed to give you 24 hours’ advance notice before entering the property?
- Landlord fails to uphold provisions in the agreement: Has your landlord failed to repair broken fixtures or provide utilities that were previously agreed upon?
- Landlord fails to provide a suitable living environment: Has your landlord allowed the property to fall into disrepair? Is the property so uninhabitable that it’s dangerous for you to continue living on the premises? In legal terms, this is often called a “constructive eviction”.
- The property is an illegal structure: Does your living situation violate regulations in your state?
- The lease agreement has illegal terms: Are there terms in your lease agreement that are unenforceable or illegal? This one requires more research into your state’s laws regarding leasing real property.
If any of these claims have occurred, you have grounds to terminate your lease. As a tenant, you still have rights that are protected. However, to prove any wrongdoing, make sure you have all questionable interactions down in writing!
Once you’ve exhausted all your options, the last recourse is to pay off the rent for the remainder of your lease period. If you’re worried about paying everything off at once, discuss with your landlord about the possibility of paying off the balance in installments.
For an option that’s less of a drain on your finances, it’s also possible that you can negotiate with your landlord about paying rent up until you or your landlord has found a new renter to take over. However, at this point, you should be prepared to fork over a significant amount of cash in order to move out anyways.
Breaking a lease is a delicate matter. Knowing these steps will help settle matters in your favor. And while you should advocate for yourself as best as you can, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t walk away completely scot-free. At the end of the day, you just have to make the best of your situation and move forward with life.