8 Tactics For Breaking Your Lease Without Losing Money

breaking-your-leaseThis post is part of an “after college” series for the launch of my upcoming free ebook “Money After College.”  You can sign up here to receive your free copy when it’s released later this week.

Signing a lease on an apartment definitely has its pros and cons. With the standard one-year lease, you’re guaranteed a place to live at a fixed rate for that period of time.  Simultaneously, you’re bound to that contract and can’t simply leave without financial repercussions. Fortunately, there are some ways to still have flexibility while under a lease and to limit the financial damage if you want or need to break that lease.  Here are some of the tips I’ve learned after dealing with several landlords.

1. Find out if you’ll be able to sublet your apartment.  Every lease that I’ve signed has said that tenants are not allowed to sublease the apartment, at least not without landlord approval.  However, I’ve found that subleasing is rarely a problem, as most landlords seem to be indifferent as long as they don’t lose any rental income.  If you’re unsure, ask the landlord before moving in what their policy is on subtenants.  If, for some crazy reason, they won’t allow subleases under any circumstances, you might want to consider renting elsewhere.  I don’t think this will be the case for most situations, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask the landlord ahead of time.

2. Figure out how sublettable your apartment will be.  I currently pay $400 a month to rent, which is on the low end for the city I live in. Since it’s a decent apartment for a cheap price, I’m confident that I’ll never have a problem subletting if I decide to leave. Subletting can be stressful and difficult, especially in places where there’s an abundance of rooms available.  However, marketing an inexpensive apartment in a highly-desirable neighborhood means that there will be much more interest should I decide to leave.

3. Lower rent to lower liability.  While we all obviously want to pay as little as possible for an apartment, an overlooked advantage of lower rent is that you’ll simply owe less if you move out early.  It merely comes down to simple math that paying rent owed for an apartment you don’t live in that’s $400 a month is much less painful than $800 a month.  If you’re moving somewhere that you’re not certain you will stay, consider a lower rent on a less-fancy apartment for this reason, too.

4. Negotiate the terms of your lease. If you know you want to be in a apartment less than a year, see if the landlord will accept a lease term shorter than 12 months. It never hurts to ask, and you’ll often be surprised how easily you can negotiate with very little time or effort on your part.

Also, try to negotiate as small of a deposit as possible.  I’m not saying this so you can trash the place and have as little money on the hook as possible (plus, you can still be taken to court for further damages).  But if you need to break your lease, for whatever reason, your landlord will have less of your money in their hands already.

5. Give plenty of notice. If you must leave, make sure to give your landlord as much notice as possible.  Many landlords are nice about this and will try to find a replacement to fill your unit.  Giving your landlord more notice gives them more time to advertise the apartment and find someone new.

6. Force landlords to mitigate your loss.  In many states, landlords are required to search for a replacement tenant to mitigate the tenants’ loses.  While some landlords may be good about this, they’re also still entitled to receive rent from you while they are searching.  I haven’t had any experience with this, but I would anticipate that not all landlords are inclined to put 100% effort into their search for a replacement tenant. Still, it’s their responsibility to do something about it and reminding them of law is a good idea for your own sake.

7. Carefully read the terms of your lease (and use them to your advantage).  If your landlord has violated terms of the lease, like invading your privacy, you may have grounds to terminate the contract.  If they’ve failed to properly maintain the property, that could be grounds for breaking a lease, too.  But just because you believe that the landlord has violated the lease doesn’t mean you can simply walk away.  Landlords aren’t likely to give in easily, so prepare for resistance and even legal action if you simply try to move out. At the very least, your security deposit is on the line.

8. Stop paying rent.  This applies only in the worst-case scenario where your landlord is awful and you have no other recourse. You’ll probably be evicted, which is not good when searching for new apartments.  In many states, you are allowed to leave if your apartment has become uninhabitable.  In either case, you’re probably going to have to fight to get your security deposit back.

Before making any choices related to breaking your lease, consider the ethics of your decision. While many of the tactics are favorable for tenants trying to escape a lease, I’m not advocating screwing over your landlord.  Whenever you can, be fair and honor your lease and try to come to an agreement with your landlord if you must leave.

Have you ever had to break a lease? How did you do it?

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photo by: seier+seier

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Comments

  1. The first thing that I would do is try my hardest to find someone else to take over the lease

  2. I’ve never had to break a lease, but as a landlord I would think that just asking nicely and giving me notice would probably be enough. Landlords do not want pissed off tenants living in their property.

    • Good to know, Ashley. Unfortunately, I feel like some landlord really don’t care who lives in their property, just as those same landlord don’t care enough to properly maintain the rental. But yea, I would think keeping the tenants happy would be best on both ends (for the good landlords out there).

  3. I’ve never had to break a lease, but as a landlord I would think that just asking nicely and giving me notice would probably be enough. Landlords do not want pissed off tenants living in their property.

  4. Kevin Yu says:

    I actually broke my lease 1 month early. The landlord allowed me to because I never paid late.

  5. I know outside of many major cities, subletting is not that common. I have leased 5 different apartments in my life, and one home, and none of them could be subletted. Though some apartments, for a small nominal fee of course, would allow you to break your lease for some personal issues.

  6. We broke our lease a couple years ago when I switched jobs.  We got the landlord to agree to having someone else take over our lease with the conditions that we had to find them and we paid rent until someone else was paying it.  We appreciated the landlord’s flexibility and  he appreciated that there would be only happy tenants and no missed rent payments.  It worked out great.

  7.  very nice .. thanks a lot .. it really helped me a lot, because i am really thinking about my lease, because i know that it will be a great expense in my part .. thankyou 

  8. Looking back on it now, there has been several times during my apartment-hopping days that I ended up breaking a lease. Never once did I have an issue with the landlord though… I simply called them, told them that I was thinking about moving for this reason or that, and asked to be let out of the lease.

    Every single time the landlord had no issue. Then again, it probably helped that I was always early on my rent and never gave any of my landlords any trouble. Now that I know what I know about being a landlord however, I have a newfound appreciation for how much it must have sucked to lose a tenant as good as I was.

    • Yea, I’m sure it it’s not fun to both lose a good tenant and find a new tenant at the same time.  But I would hope landlords understand that that’s just how things go sometime.  If you need to move to another city, there’s not much you can do about that.

  9. I tried to break my lease earlier this year, but I suspect since I was only about 6 months in they weren’t all that interested in letting me out.  I’m going to try again, but this time I plan on telling them that I need to move to another city.  I’m a little worried that I may not be giving them enough notice as I want to be out by October, but if they want me to stay an extra month I guess I can deal.

    I think my biggest problem is that I’m a pushover, lol.

  10. This is all good information. I am thinking of breaking a lease. I live in a carriage house, the landlord lives in the main house. She is constantly calling me, emailing me, and getting in my business. I don’t understand this, as I pay rent early every month, am quiet, and I have made improvements (I turned the dirt pile of a yard into a garden, and am always weeding the sidewalks, etc, though not my responsibility). The final straw this week was that I was standing in my yard, grilling dinner with a friend, we were arguing slightly about politics (not yelling or raised voices, at all, totally lighthearted). She immediately KICKED US OUT of the premises. She told us she couldn’t tolerate our noise (she HAD to be listening in to even hear us!!) and made us leave for a while so she could “get some peace and quiet”. I am over it. SO- bottom line- I am looking for other places in May, my lease isn’t over until September.  If I find the perfect place at the perfect price, I want out. I am worried about handling it though.

  11. Mackenzie says:

    I’m trying to break my lease. My roommate is horrible. We have both decided to leave, so I was hoping to just stay until August. We talked to management, but we renewed over a month or two ago and now they say we are stuck until August of 2013. I’m trying to sublease it, but isn’t there a way to just break the lease? Management said you can not break the lease under any circumstance…

  12. Bonni Apple says:

    Please someone…. give me guidance!?

    I moved into an apartment 6 months ago, signed a year lease. I should not have done this, I am new to this city, I should have checked out different areas and done something a bit more temporary at first. I have been contemplating leaving this city, in search of another home… BUT I signed a year lease. At first, I asked my landlord if I could sublease (on the lease it says that I must get her approval) she said yes. I found someone… but then she said she changed her mind and that she would let me void my lease, provided that we find someone new to move in. She thought this an opportune time to raise the price from 675 to 750. She posted it on the mls and I went ahead and made flyers, posted it on craigslist to give it a boost. The student rush has come and gone and nothing happened! 2 months has passed:( The studio is now overpriced, and I lost the window. My landlord is impossible to get a hold of, she never replies to my emails, sometimes I will get a one word response via text and that is all. I feel like she is trying to teach me a lesson.
    I am contemplating looking for someone that wants to do 4 month sublease on the sly, someone that I can trust that needs a comfy home… while I go travel.
    Any suggestions on how to get out of my lease 6 months early, not go broke and advice on how to deal with my impossible landlord?

  13. shallowpockets says:

    I personally wish things were really that simple. I signed a lease and had to break it weeks before the lease start date because of a cross-country job transfer. The landlord kept my money that paid upfront for first and last, charged me a huge cancellation fee(used my security deposit), and is still charging me rent months later because another tenant hasn’t been found. I tried cancelling payment because i can’t afford two rents, but was threatened with a lawsuit. Any suggestions?

  14. I recently moved in to an apartment.  I wanted to move in on the 1st but it was easier to find help to move on the weekend. so I moved a lot of stuff on a Saturday.  The manager said as she was opening the door that it was the apartment I saw.  I was a little shocked when she opened the door as I told her that wasn’t the apartment I saw.  I had even remembered making a comment about the kitchen color.  Usually apts are white walls and ceilings.  The kitchen actually had color to it.  She said the one I moved into was the one I saw.   It also had an island separating the kitchen cabinets with the rest.  She said I was probably thinking of the Community Room where there is an island.   She said we could do the lease on this past Monday since Saturday I was moving.  Monday it didn’t get done.  I officially moved the rest of my stuff on Wednesday.  I saw her in the hall and she asked if I was staying there that night.  I said I was.  She said we need to get the lease done since this is government housing.  I had my phones on that night and was in the apt.  She never called or came up.  Thursday I was off so I was around all day putting my stuff away, etc.  Yesterday she called me at work and said we really need to get this lease done.  My friend said she wouldn’t sign it since she is saying the one I moved into is the one I saw.  I told my friend if I don’t sign, she could say you have to leave immediately.  I have no place to go.  My friend said she would probably say you have 30 days.  The thought of moving again in 30 days about makes me sick.  I don’t know what to do.  All I know is I am suppose to sign the lease tonight and I have already told her that this was not the apartment I saw.  I am by no means trying to get off on the wrong foot with this lady.  I am an easy person to get along with .  I just feel there were a lot of inconsistencies about this.  I wanted to move here because it was only a couple of miles and 10 minutes from work.

  15. Christine106 says:

    I have two disrespectful roommates who invite their friends to bring their dogs over and smoke on the balcony. I don’t think it’s okay when I can smell marijuana in my apartment. Both the smoking and the pets are a violation of our rental agreement, what are my options for getting out of this lease?

  16. fuckyou11111 says:

    If you have a place for $400 a month you do not have to kill anyone.  If you have an apartment for more you will want to kill people.

  17. My daughter just signed a lease but has not paid the deposit or received the keys..before she signed the lease she thought the rent was going to be $425 – when she was there to sign the lease he told her she would pay $530 for the first four months..this takes care of the last months rent. Her rent is not due to begin until August. She felt pressured to sign the lease..can she get out of this if she has not paid the dep or received the keys?

  18. i was growing marijuana legally in my apartment and my landlords came in to do an inspection of fire alarms and that kind of thing. they found my plants and made me take them down. is not being able to grow my medicine grounds to exit the lease> i live in California (fyi)

  19. InNEEDofANswers says:

    Me and my wife have been living in a home for 3 years. We have a landlord who is currently a slum lord, but we rented from him for 3 years. In those three years we haven’t signed any new lease, but he allowed us to stay there even in the 7months when i was out of work and we wasn’t able to pay rent properly ever since. The home is literally falling apart, but he doesn’t fix anything i guess due to the debt we incurred, but the thing is we still payed something. He comes every week, which he is only to come every month and the house has recently been infested with mice because of his lack of poor maintenance and the wiring is poor which has cause our light bill to reach ridiculous amounts of $900.00 or more every month. He doesn’t keep proper reciepts either and he cannot tell us exactly how much we owe him and i think that he is trying to trap us there. He told some of his workers that he doesn’t care about the homes in that area anyway (Urban) and that they are just a tax write off. Would it be against the law to move out due to the fact that he is just trapping us off?

  20. ME AND MY BOYFRIEND LEASE IS UP MARCH THE 1ST 2013 WE GOT A REALIER BECAUSE WE DIDNT HAVE THE TIME TO LOOK SHE FOUND US A HOUSE BUT IT WASNTBTHE AREA WE WANT IT TO MOVE IN SO WE WENT A HEAD AND PAID A DEPOSIT AND FRIST MONTH RENT PLUS AND EXTAR 300 BECAUSE OF CERDIT .SO WE WENT INTO THE OFFICE TO SIGN A PAPER NOT  KNOWING IT WAS THE BACK TO THE LEASE WHICH WE NEVER SAW THEN WHEN WE SAW IT WE DECIDE IT TO STAY WHERE WERE AT IS IT POSSIBLE FOR US TOO GET OR MONEY BACK WE NEVER MOVED IN OR GOT A KEY OR NOTHING

  21. Confused says:

    We have been at our place for almost 5 years, but we are looking for something cheaper due to income lose, we have 6 months to go on the lease but I don’t know how to tell my landlord that we wanna move out, and if there are any penalties. What would u advice me to do? Thank u!

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