Bekah Steenbock
Breaking a Lease

Even the idea of breaking a lease is intimidating. But a job loss, job transfer, illness or family emergency can make this a necessity, adding to your stress.    

A lease is a legally binding contract. So, what happens when you break a lease? The outcome depends on the circumstances. Most landlords are willing to work with you, if you act appropriately and have documentation to support your decision.

What does my lease say?

Many leases have a few loopholes which release you for events outside your control. The most common are medical-related. If you’re no longer able to live independently, and have to move to a rehab facility or assisted living, you would typically be able to break your lease without dire circumstances. Usually, a release clause will get you out of your lease within 30-60 days, depending on what the lease states.

Hot Tip: If you work a job in which a transfer is likely, pay attention to this part of any new lease you sign.


Job Loss or Transfer

Losing a job can be a devastating blow to your finances. This is a good time to speak with your landlord. If things are getting tight due to a job loss, try to come up with a mutually beneficial solution with your manager. It could be a payment plan; subletting your unit until you get back on your feet; or finding another permanent resident for your unit, in exchange for being released from your lease.

If your job is transferring you, often times your employer will cover the cost associated with breaking the lease. Check with your Human Resources (HR) team to see if that is an option.

When the Landlord is to Blame

Your lease is signed by you and your landlord. Both parties have obligations within this contract. If the landlord does not hold up his or her end of the agreement, you may have cause to break your lease.

If pest control or maintenance requests (in writing) have not been remedied, you may have have cause to break your lease. Many leases state that residents shall enjoy quiet enjoyment of the property; some even have quiet hours. If you have notified, and provided proof, to your landlord that your neighbor parties every night until the wee hours of the morning; and nothing is done, you may have cause to break your lease.

Each state is different when it comes to those laws. It's important to check with with an attorney within your state, to ensure you have grounds to break your lease.

What NOT to Do

The worst thing you can do is to bail out on your lease by simply moving out without speaking to anyone. No good will come of that decision. It will put a financial burden on you, and ruin your credit history. For years into the future, other apartments won’t rent to you, because they’ll see your record.

You are responsible for the funds due until the lease term is up. If you don’t pay, the unpaid amount is a serious mark on your credit score. Collection agencies will be (rightfully) hounding you for their client’s money.  Keep your nose clean here.
Breaking a lease is not ideal, but sometimes unavoidable. Much of what happens when you break a lease is up to you and how you handle the situation. Life happens, and you have to roll with the punches. If you do have to break your lease, do it with your reputation intact. Talk to the landlord or manager.

See also: How to Break a Lease on Your Apartment



About The Author

Bekah Steenbock is a freelance writer with a background in real-estate and business growth. She is a native Austinite, but has called Seattle, Mankato, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Atlanta home. Bekah, her husband, and their three children love exploring the outdoors in their spare time.