If you happen to be dealing with an uncooperative landlord, it's normal to want to just break the lease to your apartment or home and leave the situation behind.
But you may be rightfully concerned about the legal and financial ramifications of breaking the lease. Is it possible to do it without being penalized?
How to break the lease for an apartment or home
In this article, we’re going talk about some ways you can break the lease to your apartment or home without it hitting you in the wallet.
Before we go too deep, you might not know that if any of the below conditions or statuses apply to you, you might be able to freely break an apartment or home lease:
- Active members of the U.S. military under orders: In the name of mission readiness, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows service members the right to break a lease early free of charge due to military orders.
- If the landlord illegally enter the premises: In most states, a landlord typically must give 24 to 48 hours notice before entering your apartment or home. If the landlord violates this, the tenant must go through a few loopholes — namely getting a court order — but the end result may be an early exit.
- Victim of domestic violence, sex abuse or stalking: In places like Arizona, Georgia and Washington state, a tenant who is an abuse victim can break their lease without penalty, provided they give the landlord a copy of a protective order/police report and up to 90-day notice. The tenant will still be liable for routine charges.
- If the dwelling meets the 'uninhabitable' definition: Due to a storm, natural disaster, violence or other damage beyond your control, an apartment or home can be deemed "uninhabitable," allowing you to exit the lease.
- If the rental doesn't meet disability accessibility requirements: Most states don't allow you to break the lease for medical reasons, unless you can prove that the reason for the malady is the dwelling itself. But under the Fair Housing Act, landlords could run afoul of discrimination laws if a tenant who becomes disabled is not accommodated.
Of course, there are other reasons you may need to break the lease on your apartment or home. You may need to relocate for a job or an urgent family situation.
Regardless of the reason, breaking a lease takes careful planning so that you don’t incur any unnecessary fees or charges.
Nonetheless, there are some negative consequences that could come with breaking a lease. They include:
- Civil lawsuit by the landlord
- Demands of immediate payment and harassment
- Forfeiting your deposit
- Negative marks on your credit report
To avoid extreme actions by the landlord, here’s what you want to do to break out of your apartment or home lease:
1. Talk to the landlord
It is usually best that you communicate you desire to move out in a timely manner. Your landlord may be willing to work with you, given enough time.
What you want to do is encourage open dialog on both sides: Rather than delivering it as a threat, this information is best conveyed in a calm, practical manner.
The benefits for the tenant include a possible waiving or reducing of fees, the return of your full security deposit and a less stressed moving process overall.
The more time your landlord has to fill the apartment, the better the conversation is likely to go.
2. Know your state’s rental laws
Every state has laws governing rental properties based on a Landlord Tenant Handbook, which is specific to the locality (here is Georgia's).
It would be pointless to delve into general tenant laws without knowing what the rules are for your particular state.
Google your particular state’s Landlord Tenant Handbook to know the specific statutes where you live and what options you might have if you need to move out due to a bad living situation.
3. Read your rental agreement
In many cases, when you read your rental agreement, you will see language spelling out what happens if you don’t pay the rent. In some cases, it may indicate that you are obligated to find a replacement renter.
One benefit of reading the rental agreement with a fine tooth comb is that you may be able to find a breach of contract that allows you to break the lease freely and without consequence.
Lori Silverman, director of Clark Howard’s
(CAC), says, “I always tell people to read their contract to see whether the lapse has broken their rental agreement.”
"Some states permit you to withhold rent when certain conditions aren't met. Some allow you to break the lease."
“What you can do depends on your rights under the Landlord Tenant Handbook,” Lori says.
4. Sublet the apartment or home
You may be allowed to “sublet” your apartment or home.
Subletting is a temporary arrangement in which the landlord agrees to let the tenant lease the unit to a subtenant. When you sublet a dwelling, you as the tenant are still liable for the apartment or home.
Here’s the thing: No matter who you find to sublet your apartment or home, the landlord doesn’t have to go along with it. The landlord has other considerations when it comes to renting to a potential tenant. That includes a person’s:
- Credit history
- Rental history and
- Employment status
5. Seek legal advice
If things seem to be getting too complicated, or if the landlord is determined to make legal threats, you can seek legal advice.
In addition to looking up your state’s tenants union, here are some tenant resources that can help you:
Many times, tenants want to break their lease because of pests or the failure of a landlord to fix a problem like a broken toilet or leaky roof.
In most states, landlords have an obligation to provide a safe and livable home at all times. If that standard is not being met, the tenant has a recourse to break the lease without penalty.
Here’s the thing: It’s going to take time, possibly months. It’s up to the tenant to take meticulous notes and document the problem so that their argument can stand up to basic legal scrutiny.
That said, when dealing with a landlord here are three steps to always take:
- If you haven't signed the lease yet: Make sure there's an "access clause" in the rental agreement that stipulates when the landlord can enter your place. It should only be with permission, advanced written notice or in the case of an emergency. This clause can protect you later.
- Put it in writing and send it certified: Assume any communication between the landlord and you may end up in court. To make sure your landlord receives your correspondence, always communicate with a certified letter.
- Be peaceful: As the old saying goes, you'll attract more flies with honey than vinegar. Try to compromise with the landlord, even if it means making a partial payment of some kind.
Here are some more articles you might enjoy from Clark.com:
- Looking for new digs? Don't fall for this apartment scam
- Ask Clark: What percentage of my income should I budget for rent or a mortgage?
- Why an unused apartment may be perfect for your next vacation