The first step in considering breaking your lease is to thoroughly read through your rental agreement to understand what the penalties are if you break the lease. Look specifically for the early termination clause.
The lease agreement may give you an option to terminate the lease if you give advance notice and find a replacement tenant. The agreement may even give you an option to terminate the lease immediately, but you will likely incur high fees and lose your security deposit.
Keep all your paperwork related to the rental agreement, including the rental agreement and other written agreements. Document verbal and text/email discussions, and any evidence relevant to the condition of the rental.
State tenants' rights laws offer tenants protections which may allow them to break their lease in certain cases, such as if the apartment becomes inhabitable, if the landlord refuses to complete repairs, or if you can find a loophole within the lease that makes it legally invalid.
If you made an agreement to sub-let the rental to another tenant and you are missing documentation proving the agreement, you may still be responsible for the lease.
Finding a new tenant is an excellent way to stay in good graces with your landlord. Many landlords will release their tenant from a lease agreement if the renter finds a suitable replacement tenant.
Some landlords may require the new tenant to assume your lease, and the landlord may be able to hold you responsible if the new tenant moves out early or doesn't pay the rent. Start looking for a new tenant to take your place, but conduct credit and background checks to ensure you find a suitable replacement.
While not a well-known option, a lease-breaking service may work well as a last resort—that is if you live in New York City. Leasebreak, launched in 2013, helps tenants renegotiate rental contracts and connects renters with other renters wanting to sign a short-term lease.
“Landlords are realizing that sometimes breaking a lease is in everyone's best interest,” says Leasebreak founder and former real estate agent Phil Horrigan. “They really don’t want unhappy tenants in their units, so they’ll try to work with them as long as the burden is on the tenant.”
Maybe the rest of the country will catch on to this concept, and we'll see more lease-breaking services. In the meantime, your options are limited if you don't live in NYC.