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How to Break an Apartment Lease

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Breaking an apartment lease can be done if you have a good reason. This isn’t an easy situation for either the tenant or landlord but sometimes it just can’t be helped. Better job opportunities or other reasons can force you to have to break the apartment lease and you need to learn how it can be done without negative consequences. Ideally, you should avoid a civil lawsuit at all costs. Unless you have a really compelling reason, your landlord won’t easily accept break the lease. That document you’ve signed when you’ve first moved in is actually a legal, binding document. You can’t just one day decide to leave out without settling all of your financial obligations. We’ll take a look first at the most important penalties to avoid and then offer you essential tips to successfully break the apartment lease.

Potential negative consequences when breaking an apartment lease

Before you consider breaking the lease on your apartment, it’s a good idea to be aware of the potential negative consequences you could face. Keep in mind that you might even experience multiple of them at the same time, so you need to be prepared.

  • Getting Sued by the Landlord

Landlords can easily sue you for not fulfilling your rent-paying obligations when you have no solid justification for breaking the lease. The likeliness of getting sued depends on some factors. One of the most important ones is timing – if you want to get out early in your lease period. The landlord will attempt to sue you if the court costs are smaller than the remaining rent balance.

You may also get sued if the landlord is aware of your whereabouts or knows that you have the funds to pay if absolutely necessary. Another important factor that can contribute is whether it’s very hard for the landlord to re-lease the apartment unit. It’s also probably a good idea to know more about the landlord’s history in dealing with bad tenants as this can increase the likelihood of him suing you.

Some state laws or regulations can offer good protection against getting taken to court by the landlord as your justification can be stronger. In case there’s no law protection for your decision, this doesn’t mean you can’t try to mount a defense when getting sued. There are many situations where landlords have to prove how they’ve really tried to re-lease the vacated early apartment.

  • Facing a Collection Agency

If the landlord considers it’s not worth the time and expense to sue you, there are still other methods he can try to recover the debt. He might hire a collection agency in that sense which is usually more aggressive compared to the original lienholders despite federal law limitations. The collection agency can be tough to deal with if it tries to seek a money judgment in court.

  • Losing the Security Deposit

Although you may not always know for certain that a former landlord will try to sue you for breaking the lease too early, losing the security deposit is something that you can usually expect. Even if the landlord considers it not worth the hassle to take you to court, he will most likely seize your entire deposit. In most cases, you will lose one or two months’ rent but there are states that don’t have limits on security deposits.

  • Experiencing Financial Hardship

The risk of increased financial hardship represents an important consequence you might have to deal with. When you’re looking again for housing, your future landlord can discover the unpaid debt and things won’t go too well, as you can probably imagine. You will have a tough time finding a new apartment because the Landlord Protection Agency can receive a broken lease report from your former landlord.

If the landlord secures a money judgment, your finances can be very badly affected. Depending on the particulars of your situation, whether you have enough savings or not, you might even have to declare bankruptcy. This is an extreme measure which will significantly impact your credit in the future.

Now, what can you do to mitigate and break the lease agreement as smoothly as possible

1. Read the Rental Agreement

An important step to take if you feel ready to break the lease is to carefully go over the rental agreement. This is a legal document that you’ve signed and it should contain vital information about breaking the lease. It might be hard to read the whole agreement so you can quickly scan the pages until you stumble upon critical keywords such as “early release” or “sublet”.

There are a few things you can expect to discover in the rental agreement in regard to the termination of the lease. A typical situation is that you are obligated to provide notice of your intention to leave with one or two months ahead of time. In case of immediate termination, you may be forced to pay large fees and most likely lose the security deposit.

2. Have a Talk With the Landlord

Speaking with the landlord in person is a recommended course of action. It’s pretty self-explanatory that it’s a good idea to be as transparent and honest as possible about your decision to break the lease. You can take this chance to explain your reasons in a respectful tone regardless of any relationship issues you may have had with the landlord in the past. Achieving a favorable solution for your problem can heavily depend on taking a polite approach through a good dialogue.

Never forget that landlords are people too and many of them aren’t just willing to hear you out but can even provide some better solutions for your situation. Open communication is key to handle even some difficult landlord-tenant relationships. You might be able to arrive at some understanding and the lease-breaking process will be resolved more easily.

3. Find a New Renter

Lots of US states require you and the landlord to find a new renter when breaking the apartment lease early. This means you have two options – subletting and re-renting. The first is when you can find someone to take over the lease. Subletting can be a good solution but it’s only recommended if you trust the person as the main lease will still remain under your name. You’re more or less responsible for him and you can’t get the security deposit until the end of your contract. Re-renting is a better option that involves re-listing the unit and finding a new tenant which will sign his own rental agreement.

4. Get Help From a Local Tenant Union

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a dispute between you and the landlord may inevitably arise. In that case, it’s trickier to find a solution. One thing to try is to get help from a local tenant union which offers good resources to simplify the lease-breaking process as well. This is especially recommended if you’re not very familiar with the more particular laws in your state because many landlords can take advantage of tenants’ inexperience and ignorance of their rights.

5. Be Aware of Exceptions

Depending on the state laws in your area, there are lots of situations where the tenant can break the lease in a perfectly legal manner without worrying about consequences. Some circumstances can be considered exceptions from the usual penalties for breaking your apartment lease. Check out some of the most common ones down below.

  • Uninhabitable Property

The landlord has an obligation to maintain proper living conditions for the rented property. Lots of state laws require landlords to adhere to health codes or offer running water no matter what. Tenants that discover violations of this sort can report it to the local Department of Public Health or may try to complain to the landlord directly. If problems remain unresolved and the property isn’t habitable, you can legally break the lease.

  • Illegally Entering the Property

While landlords have a duty to make repairs to the apartment or simply inspect the area, they can’t just come unannounced whenever they please. There’s usually a regulation in that sense which only permits them to visit if they provided you with a 24-hour notice. If the landlord is illegally entering the property and tries to harass the tenant, it may become possible to break the lease without negative consequences on your part.

  • Domestic Violence has Occurred

A tenant can be entitled to break the lease on their apartment in a few special cases. One of them is when domestic violence has occurred. As long as certain conditions are met and the tenant provides proof that he’s a victim, the lease can be broken without issues. When it comes to proof, you may need to be prepared and show the landlord a police report for the incident.

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