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.
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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.
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.
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.