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Breaking a Lease

A lease is a legal written agreement to rent out a property to someone for a fixed period of time, which is usually a year. Breaking a lease is simply ending this fixed-term contract on a property by either the owner or the tenant.

There might be a number of reasons or situations that can cause a person to end a lease contract they have entered into early. It might be due to a happy event, like a new job or joining the military, or a sad event, like losing a loved one or a sudden health emergency.

In any case, ending your lease early should not fill you with any amount of fear or trembling. In this article, we’ll talk about why people break their leases, how you can end your lease, and things that can happen when you end your lease early.

Why Break Your Lease?

Apart from the usual suspects, like having to move to a new place because of a job, a family emergency, or school, there are other situations where you can legally end your lease without much consequence.

  • The landlord fails to maintain the property

The landlord is in charge of ensuring that his rental property is habitable for humans. He does this by promptly carrying out repairs, providing running water, adhering to health and safety codes, keeping common areas clean, and providing proper trash bins.
If he doesn’t do this, he is endangering the health of his tenants, and if his attention is drawn to it and he remains adamant, it is your legal right to end the lease because his inactivity is breaking the contract.

  • The apartment is an illegal one

There are some apartments (requirements vary by state) that are deemed illegal to rent out. The State of New York considers illegal rentals to be apartments without indoor plumbing, bathroom or cooking places, or the bathroom or kitchen facilities are separated (like when the toilet and shower or bath are in different places).

Tenants of such facilities are legally entitled to end their leases.

  • The tenant is on active duty in the military

People in the military are given special consideration when they need to break a lease in order to report for active duty in another state or overseas.

  • The landlord illegally enters the property

Landlords can only enter the property after they have given their tenants proper notice (usually 24 hours in advance) of their coming. The only reasons why landlords should be in their tenant’s space is to inspect/deal with complaints, or to make repairs to the rental property.
Any other kinds of visits, if found unwelcome, can be grounds for the tenant to end a lease. Landlords should strive to maintain their tenant’s dignity.

  • The tenant is a victim of domestic violence.

In such a case, the tenant must be a victim of domestic violence within the last three to six months, must provide a written notice to their landlord stating their intent to end their lease due to sexual assault or domestic violence, and also give 30 days notice before moving out.
The tenant has a health emergency (serious injury or illness).

If you have to end your lease due to serious injury or a debilitating condition, the law has a provision for that. You’ll have to talk to your landlord and present them with a medical certificate or report showing why you cannot continue to stay in the house.
Now that you know some of the reasons why people can break their leases, let’s look at how you can end your lease.

How to Break Your Lease

There are three steps to breaking a lease:

  • Read Your Lease

This is the first step you should take when you want to end a lease. Read through every line in your lease to find out if there’s any information on how to end the lease and what the penalties for breaking a lease are.
Keywords to look out for include early release, sublet, and relet. Find out if your lease stipulates that you have to give notice of either 30 or 60 days or find a replacement. This will help you plan to end your lease in a way that will be beneficial for both you and your landlord and minimize losses on both ends.

  • Talk to Your Landlord

The best way to proceed with breaking a lease is to be totally honest and transparent with your landlord. Respect the terms of the agreement and give notice (as much as possible) and if you can’t give notice, offer to get someone to sublet or pay some portion of the rent.
That way, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.

  • Find a New Renter

This is referred to as mitigating damages. There are two ways to find a new renter for your place: you can sublet, getting someone to take over your current agreement with your landlord until your lease expires, or you can re-let, which is getting someone to make a new contract with your landlord.
This ensures that there’s little to no loss of money on both sides.

Consequences of Breaking a Lease

There are a few possible consequences that can occur as a result of breaking a lease before the agreement period expires.
Here are some of them:

  • Fees and fines

There are a few ways this can happen. You might be asked to pay a fine, which may be the equivalent of one or two months’ rent. This might mean that you won’t get your deposit back. Your landlord might also ask you to cover the cost of rent for the months remaining on your lease, which is bound to put a strain on your finances, especially if you’re moving to a new place.

  • You could get sued

If you have a particularly litigious landlord, his first option might be to sue you for mitigating damages. This can be prevented by having a discussion with the landlord and finding someone to sublet your apartment.

  • You could have trouble finding a new place to rent

Most landlords are wary of renting to people who have a history (even if it’s just once) of terminating leases. The best way to avoid this is just to be honest with them. Talk to them and explain why you broke your lease, and assure them that it’s not a habit.

One Last Word

Breaking a lease is stressful for both landlords and tenants, but there are ways to smooth things out.
If you ever have to end a lease, you can use the tips in this article to ensure you have a stress-free experience.