How to Break a Lease

When your leasing situation just isn’t working out, you can break your lease early—-but be sure to plan ahead, know the penalties, and talk with your landlord.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Jun 01, 2022
Breaking your lease early is always possible, but renters be warned: you could face financial penalties and legal repercussions if you don’t go about breaking your lease the right way. 
Moving into a new apartment can be quite an exciting time. Whether you’re moving off-campus, relocating closer to family, or moving to a new community, the general expectation is that you’ll live in your new apartment for the term of the lease. 
But what if that becomes impossible? 
There are a lot of different reasons you may choose to break your lease. You may experience a family emergency, have to relocate for a job or military service, or realize the apartment isn’t what it seemed. Whatever the case may be, you have the right to break your lease
Nonetheless, your rights don’t exempt you from certain penalties, and, if not done properly, breaking your lease can leave you in a mess of legal and financial trouble. 
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Breaking Your Lease 101

If you need to break your lease, but don’t know where to start, here are the steps you should take:

Plan ahead

The first step to breaking your lease agreement early is to plan ahead. Understanding how to get out of your lease early can help protect you from incurring fees or legal trouble, as well as help prevent any damage to your credit score. 
Once you know you need to break the lease, it’s best to let your landlord know as soon as possible. The sooner you can give notice to your landlord, the smoother the process of breaking your lease will go overall.

Check Your Lease

It’s important that you read your lease agreement carefully to understand how you can break it.
Your lease will include instructions on how to go about leaving the agreement. In some cases, you may have to pay a penalty, which could blemish your credit score.
Most leases have sections that outline the process of breaking the lease early. Keep an eye out for opt-out clauses and termination clauses, which cover the nitty-gritty of leaving your lease agreement early. 
Generally, breaking your lease early will require you to pay an agreed-upon amount to your landlord. Exact fees are detailed in your lease, but typically you’ll owe a percentage of your remaining rent and may also have to forfeit your security deposit. In some cases, you may be responsible for paying the entirety of your remaining rent. 

Talk to Your Landlord

Approaching your landlord can feel scary, but it’s a necessary part of the process.
Many landlords are understanding, and they can help you find a solution to your problem—even if your reasons for breaking the lease aren’t legally covered. In fact, landlords are often motivated to help, as they rely on your rent to substantiate their income. 
When talking with your landlord, it’s best to be as honest and transparent as possible. 
Your landlord may help you find a new tenant or subleaser, which can offset the monetary burdens associated with breaking your lease early for both your landlord and you. 

Help Find a New Tenant

Once a new tenant has occupied your apartment, you’re off the hook for rent payment—so it’s in your best interest to help your landlord find a replacement tenant. If you are proactive in the search, it lets your landlord know that you respect your rental agreement and are willing to put in the work to find a solution. 
Turn to friends, family, and your social media channels to help spread the word about the available unit. You can also utilize community resources like neighborhood social media pages or bulletin boards in coffee shops to post the listing. 
Your lease may also allow you to sublet your apartment for the remainder of your lease. Subletting isn’t exactly the same as finding a replacement tenant—your subletter will sign an agreement with you (rather than your landlord) and make monthly rental payments to you, as well.
Some landlords may already have agreements available for you to use. Regardless, it’s important to check in with your landlord before going the subletting route—if you sublet your apartment illegally, you could be evicted or face legal penalties. 
Key takeaway Planning and communicating openly with your landlord can make getting out of your lease early feel like less of a burden. 

What’s legally covered?

In most states, landlord-tenant laws allow you to break your lease without penalty under certain circumstances, such as:  
  • If the landlord hasn’t maintained the property or the living conditions are unsafe
  • If you’re on active military duty
  • If you or another tenant is a victim of domestic violence
  • If the landlord illegally enters the property 
  • If the property itself is illegal or unregistered 
  • If you experience a health emergency
In these cases, the lease may be terminated without financial or legal repercussions. Nevertheless, letting your landlord know about certain circumstances ahead of time (when possible) is always best—and may even be required by your lease.

Protecting Yourself When Breaking Your Lease

Getting out of your lease early isn’t impossible, but there are important risks you need to know about to protect yourself in the process. 
Knowing your renter’s rights can protect you from undue conflict, and help you navigate the lease-breaking waters with your landlord. Some cities also have
local tenant’s unions
, which can assist you with breaking lease agreements early or other rental conflicts. Tenant’s unions are also a resource for renters whose landlords are out-of-touch or unwilling to accept a legal reason for breaking your lease. 
If nothing else, be sure to get everything down in writing. Your landlord may absolve you of fees or penalties in a conversation, but words aren’t legally binding. That’s why it's best to keep a record of your process, including getting the details of your lease termination in writing. 
Key takeaway Even in the best-case scenario of breaking your lease, you’ll want to have a plan in place to protect yourself from legal or financial trouble. 

How to find renters insurance 

Renter’s insurance
protects renters in leasing situations from certain liabilities, such as theft, apartment damage, and repairs. 
Finding the right renter’s insurance depends on your needs as a renter. If you’re looking to bundle your renter’s insurance with your
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