Renter Guides

How to break a lease

You can get out of a lease—but it's smart to do it the right way.

You have the renters right to break a lease. No matter the reason, you’re never forced to live anywhere you no longer want to. It’s not always cheap, but it is always possible.

Here’s how to get out of a lease:

  1. 1. Understand the potential penalties.

    The landlord tenant laws that allow you to break a lease are different from state to state. In many places, you can get out of your lease without penalty for a number of reasons, such as domestic violence, an unsafe environment, or if you’ve been called up for military service.

    If you don’t have a reason outlined in law, however, you may be allowed to break a lease, but your landlord is also allowed to impose a financial penalty. It could be a percentage of your remaining rent. At most, you could owe the remainder of your rent for the rest of the lease. If you don’t pay it, you could face a lawsuit, a ding on your credit report, and the loss of your security deposit.

    That’s pretty dire, but there’s a big loophole. Most states require the landlord to actively seek a new tenant for the rental if you break a lease, and you’re no longer responsible for rent once a new tenant arrives. Check with your local housing authority to find out what your state’s laws say about how to get out of a lease.

    And here’s the even better news: depending on your lease and your relationship with your landlord, you could avoid any of those financial penalties when you break a lease.

  2. 2. Check your lease.

    See if there’s a section of your lease detailing how to get out of it, such as an opt-out clause. That would allow you to move out early if you pay an agreed-upon fee.

    Your lease can come in handy in another way, too. There may be an early termination clause that you can point to if your landlord didn’t fulfill their obligations set out in the lease. But this is one to run by a lawyer before taking action on: if your landlord disagrees that they’ve violated the terms of the lease, you could get into an expensive legal squabble.

  3. 3. Talk to your landlord about breaking a lease.

    Landlords are people, and many of them are understanding. If your reason for needing to break a lease isn’t legally covered, but is understandable, they may be willing to find a solution for you. If your circumstances will make it difficult for you to continue to afford your rent—like you lost a job or your roommate moved out—they’ll be motivated to get a new tenant into your place to avoid missed payments. The more polite, thankful, and honest you are, the more likely they are to make it as easy as possible for you to break a lease.

  4. 4. Offer to help find a new tenant.

    It’s in your best interest to help your landlord find a new tenant. Once someone new is in your rental, you’re off the hook for the remaining rent due in your lease. If it’s a hot market, your landlord might be able to rent out your place quickly. If not, they might ask for your help getting the word out or getting the place clean for showings in a hurry. Use your social media channel to post the listing; ask friends, family, and coworkers if they know anyone in need of a place to live; and utilize community resources like neighborhood social media pages or bulletin boards in coffee shops to post the listing.

  5. 5. Consider subletting to avoid breaking a lease.

    If you’re not having luck finding someone to sign a new lease, and there are no opt-out clauses in your lease, you still might not be stuck paying the remainder of your rent due in your lease. Consider subletting. You might not be able to find someone to cover your full rent, but even if they pay the typical 70%-80% of your rent, it could save you a lot of money. The lower rent and shorter terms available with subletting might attract more options for you.

    If you do sublet, go through all the proper steps with your landlord, of course. They’ll likely be happy to know the place is occupied and their chances of receiving rent in full and on time have gone up.

    Whether you move out in the middle or end of your lease, you have a right to get your security deposit back. Here’s how to get your security deposit refunded.