How Do I Get Out Of My Lease?

May 18, 2010

My small apartment
Image by kenny_lex via Flickr

What can you do if you’ve rented a house or apartment and suddenly your situation changes?

What if you’ve been reassigned, relocated or, released by your employer? Or, what if the property becomes uninhabitable through no fault of your own? Are you bound to that lease you signed?

A lease is a legal contract between a tenant and landlord which outlines the terms of the rental agreement. It defines your monthly rent for the lease period, plus your rights as a tenant and the landlord’s rights as the lease holder. It should also define the “remedies” available to each party when problems arise.

There are only a few circumstances that allow you to break the valid lease on a properly maintained property. They include the tenant being called to active military duty or, in some states and localities, being required to move for medical treatment.

If a change in your personal status means you have to move out, you should discuss voiding the lease with your landlord, and offer to help locate replacement tenants. You may ultimately owe rent for the remainder of the term, but many landlords are willing to work with distressed tenants. Plus, most states require landlords to make reasonable attempts to re-lease the property (minimizing the amount of rent you owe).

You should always consult with an attorney when you’re considering breaking a lease.

You may want to consider subleasing or assigning the house or apartment. When you “sublet” to a replacement tenant, they pay you monthly rent while you remain under contract to the landlord. When you “assign” your lease to another tenant, they take over the contract and are liable to the landlord. Your lease agreement should clearly define the subleasing and assignment options available to you. Read the agreement carefully, though. Some lease holders won’t allow sub-letting without approval.

Tenants have many more remedies available when a property becomes “uninhabitable.” If you have problems with unrepaired damage, unsafe electrical wiring, lack of hot water or nonfunctional locks, you should notify your landlord in writing immediately. Your lease will stipulate a time period in which the problems must be corrected.

If the repairs are not made, you likely have sufficient cause to vacate the property (it’s best to confirm this with the local housing authority).

Unfortunately, housing requirements change as your circumstances change. Fortunately, you do have options when those changing circumstances affect your lease.

Do you have an example of having to get out of a lease early? Share your story and what remedies you or the landlord made in the comments.

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