How to Break Your Lease and 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

Emily Garland
Researcher & Writer
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Edited By Sarah Cimarusti
July 12, 2022
6 min read

At a glance

There are many reasons why someone would want to end a lease early. A big one is the housing market, which has changed drastically in the past few years. Rent prices are soaring all over the country, with the average rent in New York City, for example, reaching a whopping $3,870 this April.

If you’re always looking for ways to save money on your move, you might be itching to downsize or relocate to a place that better fits your budget sooner rather than later.

Breaking a lease can be risky, but it’s not impossible. Let’s look at how to end your lease early and a few reasons why you might want to avoid it in the end.


How to break a lease

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Tips for ending your lease early

If you absolutely want to move before your lease term is up, you can do a few things to make the process smoother.

Look over your lease

Before you pack any boxes, look over the lease you signed when you initially moved into your rental unit. In the early termination clause, it should explain your options. Many of property management companies will allow you to break a lease as long as you pay penalty fees and forgo your security deposit.

Other rental agreements might specify an option to break a lease without penalty if you give advance notice and find a replacement tenant.

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Moving with family?

Ending a lease early for a family move? Consider hiring a moving company to make the process easier. Whether you’re looking for a full-service agency or hybrid, getting help from professionals is a great way to alleviate the stress of moving with children.

Check out these Move.org recommendations to get started:

Communicate with your landlord

You’re much more likely to get out of a lease scot-free if you’re on good terms with your landlord or property manager. Try talking to them about your situation and see if you can come to an agreement.

Find a replacement tenant

Finding a new tenant to replace you is a great way to increase your chances of ending a lease early. Weed out prospective tenants who seem unreliable and try to find someone likely to pass credit and background checks to get approved.

Subletting, or letting someone take over your lease payments without legally binding their name to the contract, may be another viable option. But keep in mind that your landlord may hold you responsible unpaid rent.

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Need legal advice?

If you are having issues understanding your lease or need help settling a disagreement, seek legal advice if necessary. LawHelp.org provides information on how to complete legal/court forms and citizen rights and lists legal offices by state. You can also use the American Bar Association to find legal services in your area. Finally, organizations like the Housing Rights Center provide free legal advice to help settle disagreements between tenants and landlords.



Legal protections for breaking a lease

Sometimes, early lease termination is emergent and protected by the law. Landlord-tenant law varies from state to state, but here are some of the most common reasons you may be able to break a lease without penalty:

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Active duty military personnel are protected under a federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). To break a lease, all you need to do is show your landlord your new orders and give written notice as soon as you’re made aware of relocation.

Landlord harassment

Defining landlord harassment depends on the wording of your lease and state laws. If your landlord displays any of the following, you may be able to break your lease without penalty:

  • Entering the premises without notice
  • Cutting off use of amenities previously given
  • Changing locks without notice
  • Arguing with guests and being hostile
  • Other aggressive behavior that might encourage a resident to break their lease

Domestic violence

Most states have provisions in place to protect victims of domestic violence. If you are experiencing abuse or stalking, you may need to provide your property owner or landlord with a police report depicting the domestic violence to break your lease.

Unit is uninhabitable

Your dwelling must meet specific codes and compliance to be considered habitable. Things like running water, sanitation, access to cooking appliances, and overall safety are non-negotiable. If your landlord can’t fix problems like these, you can break your lease. This is called “constructive eviction” and leaves the landlord at fault.

Natural disasters

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural disasters cost the US billions of dollars and impact housing for thousands of people each year. You can terminate your lease without penalty if your home is damaged or destroyed in a weather emergency.


4 reasons to not break your lease

Sometimes breaking a lease is more trouble than it’s worth. From expensive fees to legal hiccups, it might be best to put off your move if possible.

1. Early termination fees

Breaking a lease can get expensive. An early termination fee can cost up to three months’ rent, so if your lease is ending soon, you might as well stick it out. You’ll also lose your security deposit and have to pay the fees required at your new apartment.

2. Your landlord might take you to court

If your lease agreement does not allow for early termination, and you break your lease anyway, your landlord can take legal action and sue you for lost rent. If this is the case, you will need to defend yourself in small claims court.

Note: This is considered a civil judgment and will be visible to future lenders on your public record.

3. It could affect your credit score

While civil judgments no longer appear on your credit report, debt collections do. If your landlord uses a collection agency to collect your remaining rent, your credit score could take a significant hit. Collection accounts appear on your credit report and remain there for seven years.

4. You might have a hard time finding a new place

The grass may seem greener in a cheaper apartment, but access to affordable housing has been declining at the “fastest rate on record.” Hunting for a new place could take months, and some property management websites will ask for details on why you broke your previous lease in the new tenant application.


The takeaway

Breaking a lease can be a complicated process that involves hefty fees, potential loss of security deposit, and possibly even legal action. If you can avoid it, we recommend waiting until your lease is up and moving with a reliable moving company.


Breaking your lease FAQ

How do I break a lease without paying?

To break a lease without paying early termination fees, you will need to look for prospective tenants that can fill your spot and take over your payments.

How can I break a lease legally?

You can legally break your lease agreement by following the terms in your lease agreement. You may have to pay one or two months’ rent as an early termination fee.

How much does it cost to break an apartment lease?

When you break a lease and have no one to take it over, your landlord will want to cover for lost rent. This is why fees typically amount to a couple months’ worth of payments.

What happens if you break an apartment lease?

You will either have to pay an early termination fee, find a replacement tenant, or cover the cost of the remainder of your lease agreement. If you can’t pay, your landlord may take you to small claims court or use a collection agency to recoup the rent.

Is it bad to break a lease?

Breaking a lease is only problematic if not done correctly. As long as you arrange for a replacement tenant or pay the associated fees, you’ll be just fine.


Recommend resources

Now that you know the ways to break a lease and what can happen when you end a lease early, you can focus on your move. Here are some guides to help you get started:

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Emily Garland
Written by
Emily Garland
Emily is an avid copywriter currently living in Salt Lake City. She enjoys poetry, music, trying new foods, traveling, and relaxing at home with a good dramedy or reality show on TV.