What You Need to Know Before Breaking an Apartment Lease

Krista Diamond | March 29, 2017 @ 8:15 AM

An apartment lease is a temporary document, yet it feels so ironclad. If you’re considering breaking yours, one look at all of that complex legal language and list of repercussions is enough to terrify you.

Relax. Despite how your landlord might make you feel, breaking an apartment lease is a pretty common thing. Yes, there will likely be consequences for doing so and yes it will be stressful in the short term, but you will get through it, you will get on with your life and hopefully, you will end up in a better apartment.

Check Your Lease

You’re not the first person to break an apartment lease. Landlords know this, so that’s why they include a section about it in your lease. The first and most important thing to do when starting the process of breaking your lease is to take a look at the paperwork you signed when you moved in.

Your lease document should include penalties for breaking it, which will typically be one to three months rent and the forfeiture of your security deposit.

Here’s an example: If resident vacates the apartment prior to the end of the lease, resident agrees to pay two months rent in order to reimburse landlord for costs of listing and re-letting apartment. Your lease should also have information about when and how to give notice of intent to vacate. Remember that requirements, penalties and wiggle room on adhering to the language of the lease will vary depending on where you live, how hard it will be for your landlord to lease your apartment again and whether you rented through an individual or through a leasing agency.

Know the Consequences

Taking a look at your lease will give you a basic idea of what you’re up against, but there are other consequences to consider. Fair warning: This part isn’t pretty, but knowing potential penalties is better than letting things slide so far that you end up with a nasty surprise down the road.

Here are some potential consequences:

  • Paying out the rest of the lease. If your landlord is unable to re-let your apartment, or is unable to re-let it for the same amount, you may be on the hook for the remainder or the difference. You should also be aware that you will not get your security deposit or any fees back. In addition to this, you may be slapped with an extra fee for breaking your lease.

  • Your credit score may take a hit. Your credit score may be affected, especially if you don’t pay your landlord what you owe. This will force him or her to use a collection agency, which will guarantee that the breach of contract will go on record with the credit bureau. A bad credit score will potentially get in the way of things like buying a house or getting a loan in the future.

  • Your ability to rent in the future. Future landlords may wish to contact your previous landlords. If they call the leasing office of an apartment complex where you broke a lease, they probably won’t hear a glowing review.

  • Legal action. If you break your apartment lease without following the rules of the termination offer (i.e. you skip town without paying), your landlord might want to see you in court.

Talk to Your Landlord

Assuming you have a pretty good relationship with your landlord, it’s worthwhile to have an honest chat with them. Your landlord may be sympathetic and willing to work things out. This probably won’t result in you getting out of your lease without paying a dime, but it is an option if you’re trying to save your credit score and your reputation.

Your landlord may allow you to set up a reasonable payment plan for any money that you owe or wave some of the remaining rent.

Breaking a Lease Without Consequences

The best way to get out of a lease without consequences is to find a subletter (assuming your landlord allows this). If that’s not an option, and breaking your lease is the only solution left, there are several scenarios that allow you to do so without repercussions. These situations are rare but it’s important to know if they apply to you:

  • Military Orders. Deployment is a surefire way to break your lease without consequences. There should be a clause in your lease that addresses this specifically, but even if there isn’t, you should not have a problem doing so.

  • Illness or Injury. A serious illness or serious injury (The key word here, in case you couldn’t tell, is serious.) may allow you to break your lease without penalty.

  • Unlivable Apartment. Does your landlord ignore requests to fix appliances? Does your heat not work? Does your apartment have recurring electrical issues? An unlivable apartment has a lot of definitions. Inhabitable conditions include apartments with mold, pests, gang activity on property, broken locks/security gates and any other issue that indicates a failure to comply with local and state housing codes. Consult this list to get an idea for apartment problems that affect livability. If this is the reason you’re moving out, you need to document everything, print out email exchanges, and get definitive proof that your apartment is unlivable as a result of your landlord’s negligence.

Ask for Help

If you’re not a lawyer, navigating the legal process of breaking an apartment lease can feel...well...lawyer-y. Take the time to read up on your local and state housing laws and consider seeking legal advice. This is especially important if you’re trying to prove that you have a right to break your lease. You should be prepared to go to court in this scenario, and while that may result in some legal fees on your part, you will get these back (along with some possible additional restitutions) if you win.

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