How to Break Your Rental Lease Legally

When you agree to live in a rental, you usually have to sign a lease for a specified period of time. Often, landlords like to see you sign a lease for at least a year, depending on the landlord, and the situation. At the end of the lease period, you can renew for the same period, or switch to some other arrangement. Some landlords might let you go to a month-to-month lease at the end of the original term.

Photo by roland via Flickr

Having a lease agreement has some real advantages:

  • You know that you always have a place to live (as long as you pay the rent on time), and
  • You are guaranteed that the rent rate won’t increase during the term of the lease.

The downside to having a lease agreement is that you are required to pay each month for the term of the lease — even if you move out. If you want to break your lease, though, there are some ways to do so without breaking the bank as well.

Sublet the Rental

One option is to sublet your rental. This means that you find someone else to rent the apartment. You are still responsible for making sure the rent is paid each month, and you might also be responsible for damages done by the new tenant. With subletting, you can work things out so that the renter pays the landlord directly, or you are paid, and then you pay the landlord.

Before subletting, though, it’s important to make sure that it is allowed. Some landlords won’t allow subletting. It’s also vital that you carefully vet the person who will be living in the unit while you are gone. You are still responsible in many cases, so you want someone that you are fairly certain won’t trash the place and skip out on rent. You can add a measure of protection for yourself by creating a sublease contract.

Transfer Your Lease

In some cases, it’s possible to transfer your lease to someone else. Not all landlords will allow you to do this, but it’s a possibility if you don’t want to pay on a rental you aren’t inhabiting right now. This process is different from subletting, since the new renter becomes the lease holder. You find someone to replace you as a tenant, and he or she takes over the remainder of the lease.

The advantage to this process is that you aren’t responsible like you are with a subletter. In some cases, you can negotiate with the person moving in. You can offer to pay $100 for each month for the remainder of the lease, effectively reducing the rent the new tenant pays. If you still have six months left on your lease, and you don’t want to keep paying $900 a month ($5,400 total), you can offer to pay the new tenant $600. That essentially gets him or her the rental for $800 a month for six months, and you pay much less overall.

Make sure, though, that you understand the terms of the transfer, and make it clear that it is only to cover the remaining amount of time on the lease. Once everything is done, you are no longer responsible for the rental, so it doesn’t matter to you if the new tenant doesn’t pay rent.

Poor Living Conditions

Most states have laws that allow tenants to break a lease if the landlord isn’t holding up his or her end of the bargain. The landlord is responsible for making sure that the rental unit is livable, and in good repair. If the landlord isn’t keeping up with these responsibilities, you can usually break the lease without having to pay anything extra, or pay what you still owe in rent until the end of the lease. Document cases of poor living conditions, and document when you contacted the landlord to have the problems addressed. If the landlord is showing neglect, you are within your rights (usually) to break the lease.

Bottom Line

Just like any other agreement, a lease is subject to negotiation and amendment. If you plan to move, check the laws in your state, and the terms of your lease. You might have the ability to break your lease without having to pay a penny more. Your best bet, though, is to understand the lease terms before you sign, so that you know exactly what options are available to you.

About the Author

By , on Apr 4, 2012
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

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Leave Your Comment (5 Comments)

  1. Dawn Guerrero says:

    I moved into my apartment in May of 2012, not knowing the community or the city. New city, new everthing! The manager didn’t run our credit that I notice but we not criminals but still. I fill out the application she said when do you want to move I said today or tomorrow. She said ok go get a money order and I print up your agreement. I don’t know remember being ask if was ask for six months but I though I mention that to her. So anyway, my husband didn’t sign he was at work. She said we get him later. I get any notice or anything but finally after a month I remember for my husband to sign. But we have been having ac problems, we live in texas very hot! A lot of noise disturbance, no refrigrator, a lot of roaches that wont go away, odor from the main restroom, tubs turn orange and reddish color. Kitchen is falling apart, front door is letting ac out ask for all these to be fix. The apartment upstairs is falling apart, some boards are falling down to our front door. I took pictures, but would things be a good reason to break our lease?

    • Pinyo says:

      @Dawn – Check with your local government, they usually have law governing tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities. Also look at your rental agreement. From what you described, the landlord is not fulfilling his end of the agreement and you should be able to break the lease.

      I think this site might be a good place to start your research: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/tenants.shtml

  2. Denise says:

    What about reoccurring noise disturbances ? Since we’ve moved into our apartment complex we’ve been having problems with the people who live above us. The bass in their music is something we have to deal with on almost a daily basis and it’s been going on since we moved in. Is there anything that allows us to break the lease because of that? I read something about our quiet enjoyment being disturb is something we shouldn’t have to deal with but we’ve already complained in person phone and by email serval time. :/

  3. Pinyo says:

    Another common thing around my region (Northern Virginia) is a clause that allows military personnel to break lease without penalty.

  4. Jeremy says:

    In my case I am allowed to break the lease if I pay a $250 fee. Since I’m not too fond of my place, I might take them up on that when I can afford it. It beats spending time trying to find someone to take over the lease. Even if you think you found someone suitable, the landlord still has to approve them and do the normal credit/references check.

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