An apartment lease is a legal agreement, just like an agreement to pay that you sign when you take out a loan. Breaking one is a serious matter. If you do it in the wrong way, your landlord can force you to pay him some or all of what you would have paid if you stayed, and he can make it hard or impossible for you to rent another place. Many leases have provisions that let you get out under certain circumstances, so the first step in getting out of a lease is reading it to understand what rights you have.
Find Another Tenant
Some leases will allow you to find another tenant for the unit and substitute him for yourself. When you do this, the landlord doesn't lose money, so he doesn't suffer any real damages by you moving out. The new tenant simply replaces you, and takes over paying the rent to the landlord. Your lease may not allow this, though. If not, it may allow you to sublet the space by renting it to a tenant, collecting your tenant's rent, and using the money to pay your landlord, as though you were still the occupant. You'll still be legally responsible for the rent, but someone else will be paying the bill.
Find an Exit Clause
Your lease may give you permission to move out with little or no penalty under certain circumstances. Under the federal Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, your landlord must let you out of your lease if you are going to be deployed for 90 days or more or if you enter active duty service for the first time, but you must give your landlord adequate notice in accordance with terms spelled out in the law. Other clauses that might be in your lease include an opportunity to get out in the event of severe illness or a cancellation clause that lets you out if you have to move for work.
While you have to keep your promise to pay the rent, your landlord has to keep his promise to provide you with a livable unit. If your unit has severe maintenance problems, such as non-operative appliances, lack of heat, or a leaky roof, and your landlord isn't fixing them, you may be able to use his refusal to correct the issues as a reason to break your lease. Another example of an issue that might allow you to break your lease would be if the apartment community has so much noise that you cannot reasonably live in your apartment and have the "quiet enjoyment" of the space you're paying for.
When you break your lease for cause, you will need to be able to prove that you have a cause, since your landlord could turn around and sue you for breaking your lease. Laws vary from state to state, but it's generally a good idea to document the issue with photographs or with audio or video recordings to show how bad your unit is. You will also need to be able to prove that you tried to work with your landlord to get the issues cured. Sending repeated letters requesting repairs creates a record. If those get no result, sending a letter that gives a final deadline for a solution, and makes the statement that you will consider yourself to be "constructively evicted" and move out, can be useful evidence if your landlord takes you to court for breaking the lease.
Talk to Your Landlord
Another way to get out of your lease might be simply to ask your landlord. Sometimes, your landlord will be understanding and will let you out simply because he's a nice person. If you aren't a great tenant, he might be happy to see you go. Also, if rents have gone up, the landlord might welcome the opportunity to sign a new lease with a new tenant at a new, higher rent. Even if your landlord charges you a bit of rent or holds on to your security deposit in exchange for letting you out early, it may be well worth it for you.
- US News Money: Breaking an Apartment Lease: What You Need to Know
- Money Crashers: How to Break an Apartment Lease Agreement Without Penalty
- Army.mil: Servicemembers Civil Relief Lease Termination
- Nolo: Can I Break an Apartment Lease if the Complex Is All Noise and Activity?
- Nolo: Breaking a Lease and Leaving Early
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