When you sign a lease, you most likely have plans to occupy the property until the end of the term stated on the lease. However, there are times when life hits you with surprises, leaving you in a desperate search of how to break a lease.
As almost every renter knows, a lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant. The agreement states the main terms of the lease, including the lease end date and an early termination clause.
There are several reasons you may have to move out sooner than intended and break your lease – perhaps when you get a new job or, have to move home to take care of a family member or, join the military.
Since your lease agreement is a legally binding written contract, breaking it is not easy. You may face some undesirable consequences.
If you are wondering how to break a lease early, I have put together a step-by-step guide to help you mitigate potential losses.
Steps On How To Break A Lease
Here are the important steps to follow when you want to break a lease:
#1. Contact Your Landlord
You should reach out to your landlord or property manager through a phone call. Tell them the reason you are considering breaking the contract, and when you intend to leave the apartment. You may arrive at a compromise that benefits both of you. You may have to let them keep the security deposit or pay something like the rent for the current period.
Informing them on time gives them ample opportunity to look for another resident.
This may not particularly be an important guide on how to break a lease; however, it is the right thing to do if you intend to end the agreement amicably. If you don’t receive any response, you may have to send an official mail or seek external help.
#2. Review Your Lease and Give Official Notice
Although there are situations where the breaking of a lease is settled amicably, that is not always the case. However, if the amicable conversation doesn’t pan out, you’d have to review the lease.
“The first place you should look about how to go about breaking your lease is the lease itself. Almost every lease is going to have a section about terminating your lease. These are going to vary from landlord to landlord,” says Jeffrey Johnson, J.D., and a legal writer for FreeAdvice.com.
Characteristically, you’ll find a “break clause” that describes the procedures and conditions required for either the tenant or the landlord to break the lease legally.
Firstly, check to see if there is a stipulated manner in which the notice should be sent. Some break clauses may require the lessee to send the notice by a handwritten letter by mail or simply an email.
You must look out for these little things and follow them to the latter. Any infringements may result in the refusal of your notice by the landlord or property management.
This letter should be simple, yet straight to the point. It should state the reason for breaking the lease and the particular time you intend to leave.
Secondly, decide when you will give the notice. Usually, the lease will require a 30-day notice before vacation. Other times, a break clause can have restrictions on breaking your lease depending on how much time you’ve spent there.
For instance, you may not be able to break a lease of 2 years if you’ve not spent up to 12 months there.
#3. Meet Conditions
In addition to the type of notice and the right time to send it, the break clause of the lease also states the conditions you should meet before you can break your lease.
You must be free of debt by the time you apply for the break in the lease. Also, any damages in the unit during your stay must have been repaired. You’d have to return it to the condition it was in when you moved in.
Do well to check other sections of the lease to know exactly what repairs you are responsible for.
If you would have to pay out the rest of your rent, it would be wise to adhere to the terms of the lease. It’s best to communicate an alternate mode of payment to your property manager or landlord if you’re not financially buoyant.
Though they may not readily agree to monthly payments, make the effort of talking directly to them.
Subletting your apartment is the best option for getting around breaking your lease – if subletting your apartment is allowed. You’d be able to move out without the burden of having to pay the rest of the lease’s rent.
However, ensure that your landlord or management company will allow you to sublet to another person.
If subletting your apartment is what you want and is possible, ensure you draft a written agreement to sublease/sublet specific to your state.
You should know that even after subletting your house, your name remains on that lease and you’re still legally responsible for that house.
Also, you should consider assigning the lease. This entails transferring your lease agreement to a new resident. Unlike the subletting, this new resident gets to pay directly to your landlord or property management company.
However, you are not completely free from the lease. It is advisable to verify the honesty of the prospective resident as you will still be sought if there is any infringement.
If you decide to assign your lease, there are several templates to create a lease assignment agreement online. Similar to subletting, you will also need the consent of your landlord or property management company when assigning a lease.
#5. Get Everything in Writing
Everyone hopes for an amicable break in their lease, however, that is not always the case. If the situation eventually becomes litigious, you must get all your conversations – especially about money, in writing.
From the beginning of the conversation about possibly breaking your lease, there has to be written evidence.
This can be achieved if your conversations are over an email. Even when you have phone conversations, take notes, and send an email to your landlord confirming the existence and validation of the conversation. Ensure you get a reply via mail confirming that action.
A simple note saying, “Hello, just wanted to make sure I understood our conversation points correctly — can you confirm this is what we agreed?” would suffice.
#6. Seek Legal Help
There are cases where the breaking of a lease simply entails signing the agreement and handing over the keys to your property manager or landlord. However, if you feel your landlord is trying to take advantage of you, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice.
If you aren’t sure how to begin seeking professional help, here are some tips on finding a skilled lawyer based on your location and specific needs.
#7. Prepare Yourself for Additional Costs
There is no standard amount that residents have to pay for breaking a lease, however, it can be quite substantial. Depending on your situation you may have to let go of all or some of your security deposit. You may even have to pay some court fees if it gets to that.
There are different situations where you may have to pay:
Early Termination Fee
To break a lease, you may have to pay an early termination fee. However, this would depend on the terms of your lease. These terms in the original lease would also include the cost of the early termination fees.
They usually range from the equivalent of one to three months rent; sometimes higher, sometimes lower.
Unfortunately, you may have to let go of your safety deposit if you want to break your lease early. This depends on the terms of your lease, as well as the landlord-tenant laws in your state. Review your original clause for an early termination clause.
Landlords or rental companies will sometimes deduct your early termination fee from your security deposit. If the security deposit doesn’t cover the amount owed, you will have to pay the difference directly to your landlord or property manager.
Rent For Remaining Months Of Lease
If a new resident is not found in time, you may very well have to pay the rent for the remaining months on your original lease agreement.
Irrespective of how many months that would be, it’s most prudent for you to pay for it. Although it may create a significant dent in your bank account, it would definitely cost more in the long run if you ignore it.
Rent Until Your Landlord Or Property Manager Finds A New Renter
Sometimes, if you intend to break your lease early, you may be asked to pay the rent until a new renter takes the place. In many states, it is a landlord or property manager’s duty to re-rent when a resident breaks a lease, so they should be actively looking for a new tenant.
However, if they fail to find a new resident, you would be responsible for the payment of the rent for the remaining months of the lease.
Nobody wants to get to this point. However, your landlord could take you to court if you decide to break your lease early. If you lose, you would not only have to pay court and attorney fees but also, you may be forced to say goodbye to your security deposit. And still, pay rent for the remaining months on your lease.
So, if you intend to break your lease early, you should try to find a new renter for that unit as this will potentially save you a lot of money in the long run.
If you were wondering how to break a lease early, then these 7 steps should point you in the right direction and potentially save you a lot of money eventually.
Remember, it is most important that you familiarize yourself with your original lease (seek the aid of a lawyer if need be) as this would equip you during the entire journey. Also, get everything – conversations and all, in writing for the worst-case scenario.
I really hope these steps are helpful, and I wish you good luck in this new chapter of your life!