Renter's Guide: How To Break A Lease

Read this article to find out how to break a lease if you are in a bad situation.

If you rent for long enough, there will probably come a time in your life where you may have to break your lease. Breaking a lease seems terrifying to most tenants, and, in some cases, it can become a problem. However, it doesn't have to be such a scary proposition, so long as you follow some basic guidelines in the process.

It must be established that a lease is a contract, and if you sign your name on the dotted line, you are obliging yourself, as the landlord is, to fulfilling that contract. The length of time the lease lasts is an element of that contract, whether that is twelve months, six months, or one week, and if you agree to lease an apartment, you are required to stay for that amount of time. For the most part, if you break a lease the legal onus will fall on you to fulfill the contract, even if you have a legitimate reason for leaving. For example, let's say you signed a twelve-month lease in May in Chicago, and then in August your mother became disabled in Austin, and you are the only person who can take care of her. While this may be a morally sound excuse for breaking a lease, it is not legally sound, because you've signed a contract.

For this reason, it is advisable to consider putting a clause in the lease itself relating to the breaking of it, sometimes called an "early-release," or "early-out," clause, especially if you think there is even a slim chance you'll have to break the lease. This clause simply outlines an agreement between you and the landlord regarding what conditions the lease can be broken and what expenses you are responsible for, if any. It is wise to read the lease carefully in any case, as most leases do already have some kind of provision for this written into it; unfortunately, very often this provision is not very generous to the tenant. For example, most contracts require you to make rent payments until the end of the lease, regardless of whether or not you occupy the apartment. Not only that, but often times the landlord is allowed to keep your security deposit if you break a lease.



Of course, most of the time that you end up having to break a lease it is unexpected, and you will not have thought of amending your lease before breaking it. The best thing to do in this situation is speak with your landlord. If you present your case honestly, and offer some options for resolving the situation, the process of breaking a lease can be a lot smoother. One option is to offer to find a sub-lessee, which, especially if you are a good tenant, many landlords are amenable to. This saves them the hassle of finding a new tenant (although you are responsible for the rent if you break the lease the landlord is responsible for making a concerted effort to find a new tenant as soon as possible), and saves you the cost of paying for an apartment you aren't living in. Bear in mind that if you find a sub-lessee you are still responsible for the payments and any damage to the building, but if you have a trusted friend in mind, it might work out. Another option is to have the new tenant become a new leaseholder, which would absolve you of any responsibility.

If you are in the unenviable position of wanting to break the lease because of a problem with the condition of the apartment or the behavior of the landlord, first call the local housing office to inquire about your rights as a tenant. If the landlord has repeatedly ignored requests for repairs or has harassed you in some way, you may be able to break your lease if the housing office cannot resolve the situation. No matter how horrible the conditions, though, under no circumstances should you abandon the property. Because in most states you will be required to pay your rent even if you aren't living in the apartment (at least, until the apartment is rented out again), you gain no advantage by simply disappearing. Your credit report will be ruined, and you will face a mountain of legal difficulties once you are found.

The conditions of lease-breaking vary from state to state. In some states, military personnel can break their lease under certain circumstances. It is easier in some states than others to break your lease if the landlord does not fulfill his or her obligation to you as the tenant. Most states have offices which can provide you with their regulations regarding this topic. For even more assistance, you can call your local government and ask them about what services are available to tenants. Most governments have some kind of housing office which can offer more information. In addition, a number of non-profit organizations exist who offer free legal advice - the local housing office may have contact information for these groups as well.

© High Speed Ventures 2011