Breaking your apartment lease as a tenant in the US

Sometimes things happen in life and breaking a lease is sometimes inevitable. If done wrong it can have serious consequences. These tips will help.…

Editorial Team

By Editorial Team

breaking a lease locking a door when moving out

Breaking a lease is rarely a simple matter and in some situations, it’s simply unavoidable. Regardless of the reason, if you aren’t careful, you could end up suffering a wide range of negative consequences. 

If you’re lucky, your landlord might be understanding. Ideally, they will work with you to figure out a mutually beneficial solution. 

Alternatively, if your landlord isn’t sympathetic and you don’t have legal grounds to break your lease, you might end up having to pay rent for whatever time is left.

Your landlord could also sue, meaning you end up with a negative entry on your credit report. 

Conditions for legally terminating a tenancy agreement

There are certain situations when you are permitted, by law, to break your lease with little to no penalties.

However, even in these cases, you might still have to give up part of the security deposit.

It’s important to know that tenants are not required to provide notice for fixed-end-date leases. But they must provide a 30-day written notice before ending a month-to-month agreement

As a tenant, there are different rights depending on the state you live in but in most cases, the laws are the same across the whole country. 

There are several cases where a tenant can legally break a lease without occurring a penalty.

Some of these are:

1. Your landlord isn’t upholding their obligation to ensure your apartment is habitable

In the case, that a property rental doesn’t meet the minimum health and safety standards, and repairs are still not made within the allowable time period then a “constructive eviction” occurs.

A landlord’s failure to maintain fit and habitable housing means that the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required. According to the “Implied warranty of habitability” landlords are obliged to: 

  • Make sure all the apartments and public areas of a residential building are safe and fit for habitation. That would imply that spaces should be clean and free of garbage and hazardous material, pest or rodent infestations, etc
  • Maintain and fix any issues with the electrical installations, plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems of the building (both apartments and common areas).

2. Your lease has a clause for early termination

Some lease agreements may include specific terms allowing a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee.

You can make sure by inspecting the lease and identifying the agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee and the notice period required

3. You’ve been called for active-duty military service

Activated duty military can break their lease agreement under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by showing their landlord their new orders and providing written notice as soon as they are informed that they will be relocating.

4. Your apartment becomes uninhabitable due to circumstances beyond your control like a natural disaster

In the event of a disaster, the most critical terms in your lease are those that provide for rent abatement or lease termination.

Upon significant damage to the property, or if the property is unusable, you may terminate the lease.

Until the property is fully repaired, you may also receive a reduced rent.

5. You’re a domestic violence victim

If tenants are confronting domestic violence situations and want to move out, they can terminate their rental lease without penalty.

With the court’s approval, tenants are allowed to break their agreement prematurely in situations of domestic violence.

6. You or a family member is a senior citizen, is disabled, or has health issues

You can break your lease If as a tenant or your spouse who lives with you is 62 years or older, or if they turn 62 by the time their lease expires.

Additionally, If there is an individual with a “disability” then they are also entitled to break their tenancy agreement.

A physician should certify that they are no longer able to live independently. For medical reasons, they have moved to the home of a family member or to an adult care facility.

7. Your landlord is harassing you or doesn’t respect your privacy

In most cases, an act of harassment or privacy violation by a landlord can grant tenants a restraining order or other order against their landlord upon showing sufficient evidence.

However, it is possible that this evidence may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease in the case they want to break it.

8. Other Reasons

As a tenant, you may also have other reasons to break your lease early. The following reasons may legally allow someone to terminate their tenancy agreement early, but must be determined by a court:

  • Violating the terms of the lease agreement. If a landlord violates any of the agreed terms of the lease, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations.
  • Illegal contract. In some cases, a lease agreement may be considered illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable and considered not valid.

You will have to provide proof for all of the above situations. What constitutes proof can differ from one state to the next, so make sure to speak to a qualified attorney before moving forward.

One way to avoid any drama when breaking a lease is to rent a furnished apartment from a company like Blueground. They offer beautiful apartments in major metropolitan areas, all of which come completely furnished and fully equipped.

In addition, every Blueground tenant has access to a mobile application. From there they can request maintenance, schedule a cleaning and chat directly with a member of their Client Experience team.

You’ll never have to worry about a “breach of quiet enjoyment” clause because Blueground is committed to providing a wonderful mid to long-term experience.

Read your lease before taking any action

Now that you’re aware of your renter’s rights, it’s time to re-read your lease. You have to read it very carefully to see if it explains how to break the lease. You’ll also want to see what penalties might be involved.

For instance, you might find that your lease states you have to provide a minimum of two months’ notice before vacating.

Or, that you might be required to find another tenant before moving out.

Most leases do have an immediate termination option, but they usually involve very large fees. You’re also very likely to lose your security deposit too. So, it’s best to find an alternative. 


Have a word with your landlord

Not all landlords are out to get you. In fact, if you make it a point to have a good relationship with your landlord, you’ll gain a lot of benefits.

One of those is that they might be more open to the idea of you breaking a lease early – and therefore be less inclined to deal with the penalties. 

man sitting on couch with laptop and coffee

Remember, landlords, aren’t villains. You’d be surprised at how little it takes to cultivate a good relationship.

Keep in mind that this is someone who might constantly be the target of other people’s ire simply because of their job

A kind word here and there, being polite, and being honest will work wonders. When you have a good relationship with your landlord, they are more open to helping you out in return. 


Find a new tenant

In many states, if you move out early, you will be required to find a new tenant in your place. This is referred to as mitigating the damages of breaking a lease early.

Essentially, you’re supposed to minimize the losses the landlord suffers from your early departure.

There are two possible options here.

One is to sublet, which means someone else will be living on the property, but the lease is still in your name. The problem with that is that you are still responsible for everything the subletter does.

If they don’t pay, you still have to find a way to get the rent to the landlord. If they cause any damages, you have to pay for them – even if they don’t pay you in return. 

The other option is to re-rent, which basically means that the person you found will sign their own lease directly with the landlord. In this case, they’ll also have to pay their own security deposit.

Remember that your landlord isn’t obligated to accept just anyone you bring along. There are a number of factors that can influence their decision, including the person’s available funds, credit score, rental history, and more.

It might sound like a lot of work to find a new tenant.

Unfortunately, you could end up having to pay for the time the apartment remains vacant, so it is really beneficial for you to put the effort in.


Be willing to pay

Breaking a lease is expensive for both you and the landlord, so you will have to be prepared to pay some penalties. You can either pay the termination penalties, or you can cover the rent until your lease runs out, or until your landlord finds another renter, whichever comes first.

leather wallet with money being taken out

If you do opt to pay the fee for immediate termination, talk to your landlord as they might be willing to give you some discounts, even if the lease says the contrary.


Speak to the local tenant’s union

If you and your landlord don’t get along, a good solution is to speak to a Tenants Union. These organizations deal with disputes between tenants and landlords.

They can be very helpful in explaining your rights, but also if your landlord is making things unnecessarily more difficult. They can give you additional tips specific to your jurisdiction on how to break your lease.


Get a lawyer

If you feel like your landlord is being unfair and trying to get far more money out of you than the lease states, then contact a lawyer. This is also the case if you can provide proof that the property is uninhabitable and the landlord isn’t doing anything about it.

Breaking a lease is rarely easy or cheap, however, it can be done.

After all, no one can force you to live somewhere you don’t want to. Just make sure to know your rights and seek professional advice if the situation gets complicated. 

It’s important to understand that breaking a tenancy lease needs extra effort, time, and of money – considering the penalty fees and lawyer consultation.

Before initiating the process make sure to consider whether it’s actually worth the effort. There are many reasons why breaking a lease is not always a good idea – unless absolutely necessary.

A few reasons why you shouldn’t break your lease

There are times when breaking a lease is more trouble than it is worth. Moving might be best put off if possible, as it can be expensive and cause legal problems.

You may have to pay a fee for early termination

Lease breaks can be expensive if you consider paying fees for early termination.

Usually, landlords can ask to pay for the damages caused to the property when the tenant broke their lease.

In many cases, and depending on what’s written on your lease agreement, early termination can cost as much as two or three months’ rent.

If your monthly rent is $1000, the fee could reach up to $2000 or $3000.

In the end, remember that aside from losing your security deposit, you’ll also have to pay your new apartment’s fees.

You might face a lawsuit from your landlord

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

It could hurt your credit score

Unlike civil judgments, debt collections appear on your credit report for up to seven years. You can suffer a significant credit score hit if your landlord uses a collection agency to collect your remaining rent.

You might have a hard time finding a new place

It can take months to find a new place taking into consideration the current state of the housing industry and the recession.

Also, your next landlord or a property management company might ask why you broke your previous lease, so make sure the reasons are quite important.

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

The Blueground editorial team covers the best things to see, do, and experience in our cities around the world.