How to Break a Lease Without Breaking the Law

You are able to break a lease in any rental situation, but you may owe the landlord damages if you do not have a legal right to do so. There are circumstances where the law is on your side, and you can break a lease with no liability. You should know what those are before you leave your rental unit and stop paying rent. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a legal mess.

Negotiate with Your Landlord

If you have to break a lease, then you should negotiate an early termination with your landlord. Detail the reasons why you have to leave early, such as unemployment, and ask permission to end the lease. You should schedule an in-person meeting with your landlord when negotiating, because a letter may be held against you in court. Offer to help the landlord by:

  • Paying "for rent" ads in the local newspaper 
  • Finding a new tenant within your own network
  • Being flexible about prospective tenants viewing the apartment
  • Keeping the apartment and outside areas clean, so the landlord can show the apartment in the best light possible
  • Paying for reasonable damages the landlord may suffer while waiting to rent the apartment

Your landlord may say "No" to all of your help and sue you for damages anyway, but some landlords are reasonable and are able to rent the unit quickly.

Send Notices

Your landlord may breach the lease agreement by failing to perform certain duties. For example, your landlord is required by law to maintain the premises in an inhabitable condition. To do so, the landlord has to make reasonable repairs in a timely manner. If a condition exists that poses a health risk, or makes the unit that you're renting inhabitable, then your job is to notify the landlord. You can call the landlord, but always follow up with a written notice as well.

If the landlord doesn't respond or fails to make repairs after a short time, then follow up with second and third notices. If there is still no response from the landlord, then you may be able to break the lease by sending a notice of termination. Each jurisdiction is different, so consult with a real estate attorney to confirm that you will not be held liable for damages.

Military Exemption

As a military service member, you have a right to break a lease if you're called into active duty or enter the military during the lease term. The landlord cannot hold you financially responsible for terminating the lease early, even if you don't help him to find a new tenant. That's not the case for many other individuals, where tenant laws require most tenants to mitigate damages by helping to find a new tenant. Simply show documentation to your landlord that you have to leave for military service, and follow up by sending him a written notice.

Documenting everything is crucial when you break a lease. You may find yourself in court, and you'll need all the evidence you can to defend yourself.

blog comments powered by Disqus