When you sign a lease for an apartment, you’re signing a legally binding contract. You get a place to live for a set amount of time, and in return, you agree to pay your rent each month. Breaking a lease is breaking a contract, and can end up costing you thousands of dollars in fees and penalties.
However, there are some ways you can minimize the impact of breaking a lease and limit the hit to your finances. How you break a lease can go a long way to making the process easier. These methods can help you come up with solutions that work for both you and your landlord.
How to break a lease
Know your lease terms
Under a standard apartment lease, you are on the hook for the entire contract, even if you move out early. But in many states, the landlord must make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant. In other words, they aren’t allowed to sit idly by and charge you for an empty apartment. (Look up the specifics for your state here.)
When it comes to breaking lease agreements, most owners realize that finding a new tenant is in their best interest. Once you move out, they know they have little power over you to force you to keep paying rent. Instead, many landlords and complexes will offer you different options.
When you first sign the lease, there may be an addendum attached that covers how to break a lease. One of two common scenarios is likely to happen:
Under the first option, the landlord will try to find a new tenant, and you keep making payments until the new person signs a lease. This option works if you live in a high-demand area. If your apartment has a waiting list, you could be responsible for just a few weeks. However, if your complex has vacancies, you could end up paying rent for months.
The other option is for you to pay one or two months’ rent when you move out, and then you are completely clear. This path is good if you want a clean break without the potential for any other issues.
Sublet the apartment
If you need to break your lease and you do not have one of the options mentioned above available, you may still be able to work out a solution.
Review your paperwork and talk to your landlord about subletting. If it is permitted, it can be a good option that works for both of you. In a sublet, you lease out the apartment you are renting to a short-term tenant who pays you directly. The landlord still gets the money he’s owed, but you have the expense covered.
Not all properties allow subletting, so be sure to check before subletting out your unit.
Find a replacement
If your landlord doesn’t let you out of your lease, you may be able to negotiate with him if you find a replacement tenant. By doing the legwork for him and advertising for a new renter, you make the transition seamless and ensure your landlord does not lose any income.
Your landlord is not under any obligation to accept the tenant you found. But by doing the work, you increase the chances of getting out of your lease without having to owe money.
Sacrifice your security deposit
If you are willing to sacrifice your security deposit, that can be a strong negotiating point. If you proactively offer to forfeit the security deposit on file, your landlord may be willing to keep it as a fee for breaking the lease and let you out early.
Give plenty of notice
Many property managers will give you a break if you give them plenty of notice. If you let them know a few months ahead of time that you will be moving out early, that allows them to plan accordingly. They can begin advertising and showing the unit and can get a new tenant quickly.
By giving a heads up, you ensure your landlord doesn’t lose any rental income, and you can figure out how to break a lease without getting burned.
Set up a payment plan
Breaking a lease can leave you owing thousands to your landlord. If your landlord doesn’t come down on what you owe, ask if you can set up a payment plan rather than owe it all at once.
Many landlords will understand that you can’t afford to pay all that money upfront and will be willing to work with you. It increases their chances of getting the money they are owed, so payment plans are a good option.
If you need to end your lease early, communicate with your landlord as soon as you know. If you lost your job, were offered a new position in another city, or are getting married, a landlord is more likely to be sympathetic.
Be direct and upfront about the circumstances around your move. If you’ve been a good tenant and have reliably paid your rent on time, he may be willing to make an exception and tell you how to break a lease without damaging your finances.
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