Life is uncertain. Sometimes, even when you've done your best, circumstances force you to drastically change your plans. Whether you have to relocate for a job, your roommate or significant other flakes out on you or you just can't afford to stay, knowing how to break an apartment lease without digging yourself into a deep hole can prove invaluable.
Landlords have renters sign leases for a simple reason: security. It costs property managers money to clean, advertise andfind a renter again. If that takes them a month, that's a month they aren't earning rent. When you sign a lease, they're happy knowing that they have a year (or more) in which they won't have to worry about re-renting.
Depending on your reasons, your landlord may be sympathetic. However, breaking your rental contract could have serious consequences: You could be required to pay the rent for the remaining months on the lease; your landlord could take legal action; or your credit report could be impacted. For these reasons, breaking your apartment lease should be your last resort – but if you have no other choice, follow these steps to make sure you're protected:
1. Read your lease. If you have to break your apartment lease, the first thing you should do is review the rental agreement. Many leases have an opt-out clause that explains precisely what you're responsible for in this scenario. It may indicate that you have to give notice of your intention to vacate the apartment one or two months in advance, or you have to find your replacement renter. If your lease doesn't have this kind of clause, proceed to step two.
2. Talk to your landlord. As soon as possible, tell your landlord about your situation. If you are a responsible renter and have a good relationship with your landlord, the process of breaking an apartment lease can go smoothly. Your landlord is a person, so be honest about what's going on, and he or she might understand. While this may seem like a crisis to you, it probably isn't the first time your landlord has had someone break a lease. Give your landlord as much notice as possible before you move out. If you need to break your lease immediately, offer to find someone to sublet from you. However, keep in mind that if you are allowed to sublet and you choose to do so, you're still legally responsible for the rent and anything that goes wrong through the length of your rental contract.
3. Find a new tenant. In many states, both you and your landlord are required to try to find a new tenant if you move out early. In legal terms, this is known as "mitigating damages." This means that landlords can't just leave the apartment empty and sue you for back rent; they have to try to rent it. If your landlord isn't able to find a new renter quickly, you may be required to pay for the days the unit remains vacant, and if the landlord has to re-rent the unit at a lower price, you might have to pay the difference – so the sooner a new, acceptable tenant is found, the better for everyone.
Sometimes, it's possible to break your lease without penalty under special circumstances. Common permissible reasons for breaking a lease include:
To learn more about local laws and how to break an apartment lease in your state, contact a local renters' rights organization, your local legal-aid office or a lawyer.
Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.