Ask The Apartment Experts: How Do I Break My Lease?

Ask The Apartment Experts: How Do I Break My Lease?

We’ve received a couple of different variations of “Can my landlord charge me a fee for breaking my lease?” and “How much notice am I required to give when I break my lease?”  So, we figured we better tackle this topic.

A few disclaimers before we begin:

First, We are not lawyers, and this article is in no way legal advice.

Second, read your lease! There’s a possibility you agreed to some random clause.

Third, as we have said before, we are renters and work with and for landlords. So, we understand both frustrating sides of this.


In the first scenario a renter contacted us about, they had purchased a home and then got hit with a lease termination fee when they attempted to move out (and stop paying their rent) before their lease was up.  Apparently, their real estate agent had implied that buying a home meant they could break their lease without penalty.

Ummm, guys… that’s not true!  You decided to dive into the world of homeownership…congratulations!  That in NO WAY means that you are suddenly exempt from your existing contractual obligations.  Also, as general life advice, don’t blindly follow the opinion of someone who stands to benefit from you making that decision. Do your own due diligence.  You are responsible for yourself and your finances.  We have heard multiple variations of lease termination clause myths:

•    MYTH: You can break your lease without penalty if you buy a house

•    MYTH: You can break your lease without penalty if you get a job transfer

•    MYTH: You can break your lease if you get married


Our advice is the same every time.  Read. Your. Lease.

Many leases have a termination clause.  We recommend you review this and these other important questions with your landlord before you sign a lease.  The lease termination can require 60 days notice to vacate plus a termination fee, all the way up to full financial responsibility for your remaining rent payments until you find a suitable replacement renter or until the lease expiration date.

The lease will also identify any circumstances in which an early termination is acceptable and how to prove your status with documentation.  For instance, we have seen clauses that state if your job transfers you over 100 miles away, you can break your lease without the typical fees {BUT that isn’t a standard term}.


Why do landlords charge a termination fee?

Whether you are dealing with a private owner or a large management company, they have created budgets based on the fact that you signed a lease promising to pay your rent for 12 months.  If you exit your apartment early, the landlord will have to pay for new paint, cleaning, potentially new carpet, and then advertising the apartment to new potential renters and also a commission to the leasing agent or broker that places a new tenant in the home.  That can potentially cost thousands of dollars.  And that is not even taking into account how much the unexpectedly vacant apartment with no incoming rent costs them (aka Vacancy Loss).  If you look at it from this perspective, it is easier to understand and justify the fee.


Are there any scenarios where I can break my lease without penalty?

The two we see most often in leases are military orders and death of an occupant or leaseholder.  Again, we cannot guarantee these terms are present in all leases. read your lease for specifics.


Tips for breaking your lease, (relatively) stress-free

Negotiate before signing your initial lease.  If an early lease termination clause isn’t in place and you know a job transfer is a possibility, try to come to terms before signing on the dotted line, or inquire about a shorter lease term (but know that this may come with a higher monthly rent cost).

Remember that your landlord is not the enemy.  While they may charge you some inconvenient and expensive fees, you are causing them an inconvenience and expense as well (see above).

Review the terms of your lease and start budgeting for the associated costs.  Talk openly with your landlord about your situation and propose the option of a payment plan.  There are no guarantees that they will bend to help, but it doesn’t hurt to ask and try to come to a compromise.

Come to the landlord with solutions.  Get creative and try to think of ways you can help minimize the cost and inconvenience for your landlord: If you find a replacement tenant, would that exempt you from or minimize your penalty?

Clearly outline yours and your landlord’s expectations.  What will the landlord require from a replacement tenant? New background check fees? New security deposit?

When does the landlord expect you to pay the termination fee? Immediately? Within x number of days after move-out?  Don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility.


Breaking your lease is an unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable reality of apartment living.  Try to put some preventative measures in place by thoroughly reviewing your lease and asking for any amendments or addendums before signing, be creative in offering up potential solutions and compromises, and remember that you aren’t the only one possibly losing out in this situation.  


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