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How to Break a Lease Without a Penalty

October 7, 2022
Do you need to get out of a rental lease early? Not sure what happens if you break a lease? Learn how to break a lease without penalty and move on to new adventures.

If you need to terminate a lease early, there's more to do than let your landlord know and start packing. You'll probably incur penalties and fees of up to a month's rent or more, depending on the terms of your lease and where you live. It's also possible to lose your security deposit.

There are ways around the expense. For example, knowing how to break a lease without penalty can save you a bundle and alleviate stress.

1. Check Your Lease Agreement

Once you become interested in potentially ending an apartment lease early, check your lease agreement. A section should outline any early penalties or fees for breaking a rental lease. It's also possible you might be able to sublet and allow someone else to take over your lease.

2. Negotiate with Your Landlord

Depending on your landlord, they may be open to negotiating on ending a lease early. For example, if your landlord hasn't raised the rent much over the last few years, they may jump at the chance of breaking your apartment lease to raise it to market value.

There are ways to avoid penalties and break your lease without breaking the law. These legal reasons to end a lease early can prevent fines and get your landlord on board:

  • Illegal unit- If your landlord illegally converted empty rooms or an attic into an apartment, breaking your apartment lease is usually penalty-free.
  • Noncompliance with local or state housing codes- You have legal grounds to get out of a lease if you're dealing with electrical problems, insufficient bathroom ventilation, pest infestations, and fire hazards.
  • Violation of tenant rights- Failing to provide hot water and heat or ignoring broken windows and other safety issues are tenant rights violations. They're also grounds to break your lease without paying the penalty.
  • Military service- Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, you can usually terminate lease agreements based on active duty military service.
  • Criminal activity on the property- Criminal activity helps get you out of a lease, hopefully as quickly as possible, without penalty.

Before you talk to your landlord, look into all the legal reasons you may be able to break your lease without penalty. The more informed you are, the better the conversation will go.

4. Evaluate the Consequence

Breaking a lease with or without penalties isn’t always possible and could lead to severe consequences, including:

  • Lawsuit- Your landlord may take legal action and file a civil lawsuit to force you to pay off the lease balance.
  • Lowered credit score- A judge could issue a credit judgment against you for breaking a lease and show up as a public record on your credit report, which will bring down your score.
  • Difficulty renting a new place or getting a loan- A lowered credit score makes it difficult to get just about any loan, not to mention a new lease.

When you break a lease, you’re likely to face some kind of financial repercussions. So make sure you can cover your losses.

5. Explore Options with Minimal Losses

Consider options with minimal losses if you can’t avoid a penalty altogether.

  • Offer your security deposit- Your landlord may accept your security deposit to offset their financial loss and inconvenience.
  • Try subletting- Check if your lease allows subletting, or talk to your landlord about someone else taking over your lease.
  • Appeal to your landlord’s human side- Some landlords may express sympathy for an extenuating circumstance you have, like needing to move for your health or to be near family.

With some ingenuity, you may be able to negotiate down the penalty or get out of it altogether.

6. Get Everything in Writing

If you manage to break your lease without penalty, make sure to get all the details in writing. A simple misunderstanding between you and your landlord could escalate to a legal issue.

Final Thoughts

There are solutions if you're trying to figure out how to terminate a lease early without paying the consequences. Exploring your legal options and keeping the lines of communication open with your landlord are your best strategies for success.

If you break a lease, document everything and do your best to mitigate your losses, protect your credit score, and move out on good terms with your landlord.

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Sania is a content manager and contributing author at Apartment List. Sania previously worked in marketing at Habitat for Humanity and Samsung Electronics. Read More
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