8 Moves to Make If You Need to Break Your Lease


Most renters understand that a lease benefits them as much as it does landlords, since it protects both parties. However, if you need to break that lease, you could be on the receiving end of some tough penalties and legal actions. Don't panic yet, though — there are moves that could save you a lot of money… and your sanity.

1. Find New Tenants for the Landlord

The biggest issue landlords have with breaking a lease is the loss of income. The landlord has overhead, including a mortgage payment, HOA costs, water, and more, and they all have to be covered even when the property is empty. This is why there are penalties for breaking a lease — to cover the landlord against loss.

However, if you are proactive and find good tenants to replace you, it's very possible the landlord will waive the fees and let you break the lease. After all, you have brought in new tenants, saving the landlord time and effort, and in most cases, extending the time the property will be filled. (If your lease expires in July, but you bring in someone to rent from March-February of the following year, you've done the landlord a favor).

2. Plead Your Extenuating Circumstances

Landlords are people, too. If you're renting from a big property management firm, you won't have much luck. But if it's an individual, arrange a time to sit and chat, and explain the reasons why you have to break the lease. Be open, be honest, and see what happens. If you have to break the lease to move back home with an ailing parent or relative, the landlord could be very sympathetic, and may do something for you (cutting the early termination fee in half, or waiving it completely). But, don't lie. Making up some bleeding heart story could backfire, and you don't want an angry landlord as an enemy, especially when they have the law on their side.

3. Look for a Contract Breach

If you have to break the lease, you may well be within your rights to do so without any kind of termination fee — if the contract is, in fact, not being adhered to. Remember, the contract is for your protection as well as the landlord's, and the property should be safe and well-maintained. If you have been living with a broken refrigerator, a moldy bathroom, or any other type of problem that makes the property tough to live in, you can use it to your advantage.

However, you cannot just ignore these issues for months and then decide to break the contract. You will need to provide evidence that you asked the landlord to address the issues. Also, take pictures, and keep copies of all correspondence. If you can show your requests for help fell on deaf ears, you will have a great case to break the lease without a fee.

4. Negotiate Payoff Terms for the Penalties

Early termination fees can be very scary. When you see a $1,500 lump sum, it can make you think twice about even considering it. However, landlords can be very flexible if they know they are going to get the money in a set amount of time. Consider asking for an installment payment plan for any early termination fees.

5. Use Your Security Deposit as a Bargaining Chip

You will have put down a substantial security deposit when you signed the lease. Usually, it's around one month's rent, and this can be just enough to cover the costs of the landlord while they find a new tenant. If the property is in a highly sought after location, it will not be empty for long, and that security deposit will more than cover any costs the landlord has. It's much easier for them to simply keep that deposit and avoid a bunch of paperwork, rather than trying to take you to court for fees.

6. Find a Sublet

Ready to become a landlord yourself for a while? Well, try subletting. Now, you may find that the contract forbids you to sublet the property, so you may have to talk to the landlord (or do it without saying anything, and hope for the best). As a general rule, landlords don't really care where the money comes from, as long as the property is well maintained and the tenants cause no trouble. And remember, if you sublet to someone who wrecks the place, that's all on you. Your name is on the lease, so the landlord is going to be reimbursed, either way.

7. Can You Blame the Neighbors or Surroundings?

Do the neighbors upstairs have parties until 4 a.m. every weekend (or worse, every day)? Do the neighbors harass you, or make life hell for you in general? Is the neighborhood itself in serious decline, and no longer a safe place to live? These are all conditions that you may be able to use to break the lease without a termination fee.

Once again, you would have to prove that you asked the landlord to deal with the situation, and that nothing happened. But if you can prove the property became unlivable, you can argue you were "constructively evicted from your property." This is something that can go to court, so you need to be really buttoned-up, and will most likely require legal assistance.

Haggle Over the Early Termination Fee

Landlords would rather have some money than none at all. If you are going to have to pay $2,000 to break the lease, but can only afford $1,000, talk to the landlord about a lower penalty. This is easier to do with an individual than a property management company, as the latter has the backing of corporate funds and on-staff legal counsel. But… it's always worth a try.

Have you ever broken a lease? How'd you get out of it?

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Guest's picture

Did you really just tell tenants to move people into their apartment (sublease) and NOT tell the property manager / owner - and just "hope for the best"?!?

Sure -- since the tenant wants to get out of the lease, why not just tell them to violate it by putting unauthorized people in there? Great idea.

You have zero credibility with suggestions like this. Ridiculous.

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