Breaking your apartment lease is never ideal, but sometimes it’s necessary. While you may face legal ramifications and other long-term consequences, there are ways to minimize these negative effects. Plus, there are certain situations wherein breaking your lease is protected under law.
Not sure how to navigate this situation? Don’t worry! We’ve got everything you need to know to get out of an apartment lease. We’ll walk you through the best ways to negotiate with your landlord, and will show you how to mitigate some of the worst-case-scenario consequences.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about breaking your apartment lease.
How to get out of an apartment lease in five steps
Not sure how to get out of an apartment lease? Follow these steps to streamline the process and minimize the consequences.
1. Check your lease and state laws
First, carefully review your lease to find out what it says about breaking the contract early. This will give you a better idea of what to expect.
Generally, there are three ways that landlords handle tenants who want to leave a lease early:
- First, they may have a rent-responsible clause that holds you responsible for the rent until a tenant is found to fill your place, or until the original lease term is up.
- Second, they may have a buyout clause that allows you to pay a certain amount to break the contract.
- Third, they may not have anything in the lease about what happens if you leave early.
If there is no escape clause, there are two possibilities. You may have a landlord who is understanding and willing to work with you throughout the process. Or you may have a landlord who is going to try to hold you to the full term, regardless of the circumstances. You should prepare for either scenario and everything in between.
Also, be aware that there are state laws that regulate what landlords can do and charge in this situation. Be sure to check the laws that apply to your state, as they may help offer some protection. If you’re unfamiliar with landlord/tenant laws where you live, the Attorney General Office of your state is a good place to start.
2. Prepare your plan
Armed with the knowledge of your contract and any applicable laws, it’s time to think about your best approach to the situation. Consider what you know about your landlord. Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you paid on time? Did you take good care of the place, and communicate openly and often? Are they uptight and strict, or flexible and understanding?
If you have a good relationship with an understanding landlord, you may be able to approach them with fair notice (at least a 30-day notice, but preferably more) and discuss the situation openly. If the relationship is rocky or the landlord in question is very strict, you’ll want to prepare for a more formal conversation.
Before starting the conversation, decide for yourself what you’re willing and able to pay. Additionally, think about how you can help smooth over the situation. Some helpful steps might include:
- Finding new renters to replace you.
- Offering to forfeit the deposit.
- Ensuring that the place is in good shape (e.g., offering to pay for a professional clean, etc.).
3. Give notice
Once you have a plan, you’re ready to tell your landlord that you’ll be breaking the lease. The earlier you can tell your landlord, the better, as it gives them more time to prepare. In most cases, they’ll appreciate having as much time as possible to find another renter.
Also, be sure to acknowledge that you are not taking the issue lightly. Explain why you need to leave, when, and what you plan to do to minimize the negative impact on them.
4. Try to come to an agreement
Your landlord’s response could be great, horrible, or anywhere in between. It’s essential to do your due diligence to come to an agreement that is as fair as possible on both sides. Be ready to hear their side and to explain yours.
Also, think about any steps you can take t can make the situation easier on them. Will it help if you give the property a thorough clean? Will they allow you to sublet your room to someone else for the remainder of the term? Can you transfer the lease? Negotiate a buyout? Shorten the lease? Get creative and demonstrate that you are looking for ways to improve the situation.
5. Consider legal advice
If you and the landlord can’t come to fair terms, you may want to seek legal counsel to figure out the best next steps. If, for example, the place is uninhabitable and the landlord denies the poor conditions, you could file a small claim lawsuit suing for constructive eviction. In this case, a judge can void your lease without you having to deal with any expensive consequences. Play your cards right, and you could even get paid for any damages you’ve suffered.
However, if you are breaking the lease for a more personal reason, such as a new job or a budget change, your landlord could sue you. You may want to seek advice on how to protect yourself from this contingency.
By following these steps, you better your chances of amicably breaking your lease and minimizing your losses.
The consequences of breaking a lease
What happens if you break a lease and things go south? If you end up with a tough landlord who isn’t willing to work with you, you may face one or more of the following negative consequences.
Owe a large balance
In the worst-case scenario, your landlord may try to keep your security deposit and charge you the full amount of rent due over the remainder of your contract, plus costs for advertising and any damages. A more understanding landlord may end up charging you an extra month’s rent and keeping your deposit. Either way, you’ll be charged with a substantial bill.
Deal with annoying debt collectors
If you can’t pay what the landlord says you owe, they may send the bill to a collections agency. And the collection efforts of debt collectors can be highly invasive and annoying.
Struggle to get another rental unit
After breaking a lease, you may have trouble finding another rental unit. Your prospective landlord only needs to do a quick background check to see your previous landlords. If you ended things on a bad note, it might discourage other landlords from renting to you.
Face a lawsuit
The landlord may take things a step further and sue you for the amount you owe. In this case, you’ll need to go to court where a judge will rule on your case. This can result in forced repayment through wage garnishment or other means. Also, the judgment will show up as a public record.
Because going to court is expensive and time-consuming, many landlords won’t want to go this route. However, there are a few situations in which this outcome is more likely. If any of the following are true, you should prepare for a potential lawsuit:
- Your landlord thinks that you are financially able to cover the rent for the rest of your lease term.
- You leave early in your lease when the rent balance is substantial.
- Your landlord tries and fails to find a new tenant to replace you.
- You’re renting from a large company with a dedicated legal team.
Most negotiations regarding a broken lease won’t come to the point of court, but it’s important to understand that they can.
Legitimate reasons to break a lease
Want to know how to get out of an apartment lease without dealing with any consequences? In some states, certain reasons for breaking a lease are protected by law. Here are a few examples of situations wherein you can break your lease without consequence:
- Unhabitable: The apartment becomes unlivable due to an event that wasn’t your fault (e.g., a natural disaster, fire, or flood).
- Domestic abuse: Many states allow victims of domestic violence to break their lease without penalty.
- Military relocation: The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) covers members of the military who need to break a lease because they’ve been stationed somewhere else.
- Harassment: Some states permit renters to break their lease if the landlord is harassing the tenant or invading their privacy.
- Health issues: In some states, a severe mental or physical health issue can be a justifiable cause to break a lease early.
- Lack of disclosures: If your landlord fails to provide mandatary state or local disclosures, this can warrant breaking the lease.
- Early termination clause: If your lease includes an early termination clause that outlines situations where breaking the lease is justified, those will be covered.
While the above situations are considered legitimate reasons to break a lease in some states, they won’t stand up in every state. Be sure to review local landlord/tenant laws or consult a legal professional to figure out your options.
Pay off a broken lease bill with a loan
If you break your lease and find yourself on the hook for a balance you can’t afford, you may want to finance the expense with a personal loan to avoid collections, lawsuits, and negative credit marks. To find out if you qualify for a personal loan and to compare offers from leading lenders, check out the offerings below.
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.