Can you get out of a rental agreement without penalties?

Date Published : Jan-17-2023

Written By : Kim Brown

Few people sign a rental agreement with an intention of breaking it early. However, sometimes an emergency or big life event makes it impossible for a renter to stay in their home for the entire duration of the lease. Other times, the unit, or neighbors, create too many issues for the tenant.   

Whatever the reason may be, tenants might wonder if they can terminate their lease early without consequences. While it is possible, in most cases, a renter will be required to meet certain requirements if they don’t want to get into legal trouble.

  

Table of contents

  

Is a rental agreement really that serious?

A lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a tenant (or lessee) and a landlord (the lessor). So yes, they are serious. Like any contract, a rental agreement spells out the expectations and obligations of each party entering into the agreement. Most rental contracts are valid for one year (though this isn’t always the case), which means the tenant is obligated to pay rent for the entire lease period specified in the contract.

If a tenant breaks a lease, there could be financial and/or legal consequences. However, if you try to work with your landlord and be honest with them about why you need to move before the lease has ended, you may be able to protect your credit score, minimize fees and avoid legal problems.

  

Consequences for breaking a lease

You cannot simply pack up your stuff and go without first talking to your landlord. If you stop paying rent because you’ve decided to move out early:

  • Any security deposit you paid would remain with the landlord
  • If there was a predetermined fine included in the contract for breaking the lease early, you would be expected to pay it
  • Early-release fines may amount to one or two months’ rent
  • The landlord may ask you to continue paying rent until the lease expires 
  • If you don’t pay what you owe, the debt could be sent to collections. This can lower your credit score and have a negative effect on your credit report, making it harder to rent a new place
  • The landlord could sue for the amount that remains

  

Can parties come to a mutual agreement?

Yes. If both parties agree to early termination of the contract, then you can get out of your lease without consequences. A landlord may be open to this if they haven’t raised the rent much over the last few years; this could provide them with an opportunity to raise rent to the current market value.

If you are on good terms with the landlord and have a compelling reason for wanting to break the lease early (a family member is chronically ill and you need to care for them), they may also agree to the early termination of the contract.

Ensure to get the new decision in writing so that both parties are protected.

  

Exceptions where you may legally break a lease

There are a few legal reasons that allow a tenant to end a lease early without consequences. Always check with local laws to see if any of these reasons are valid in your area.

  

The landlord failed to maintain the property

In most provinces and states, landlords must maintain a habitable property with running water and heat. They must also perform repairs and regular maintenance, adhere to health and safety codes, and keep common areas clean.

If a tenant believes that there’s a significant health or safety violation, they should contact their health department to file a complaint, or make a complaint directly to the landlord. Depending on state laws, a tenant can submit a written notice stating that they are vacating if the maintenance work has not been completed. Tenants have to wait a certain number of days after sending this notice before they can move out.

  

The apartment is illegal

If you live in an apartment that is considered illegal in your area, you may get to break your lease. For example, if there was only one exit, there is a strong chance you would be able to terminate early. Most places only consider an apartment to be legal if there are two exits.

  

The tenant is actively serving in the military

Military service can be used as a legal reason for breaking a lease. If a U.S. service member needs to relocate for a period of at least 90 days, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows the tenant to legally give their notice to terminate the lease agreement. Military service members will need to give notice (usually 30 days) before the desired move-out date. They will also need to show proof of their official orders per the Civil Relief Act.

  

The landlord illegally enters the property

Landlords are generally required to provide tenants with at least 24 hours’ notice before they can enter the property. Landlords can legally enter your property to make repairs, inspect the property, or show it to prospective tenants.

However, if a landlord repeatedly attempts to enter a unit without first giving proper notice, then the tenant may have legal grounds to break their lease.

  

The tenant is a victim of domestic violence

If a tenant has been a victim of domestic violence, they may legally be entitled to break their lease. In these cases, the attack typically must have occurred within the last three to six months.

The tenant must provide the landlord with written notice of their intent to break the lease due to domestic abuse.

  

The tenant experiences a health emergency

Tenants may leave the unit early due to unexpected health circumstances. Serious injury or illness would both qualify someone to end their lease early. The tenant may need to provide a letter from their doctor or the court, and could terminate the agreement within 30 to 60 days.

  

How to approach the topic

Regardless of why you want to break your lease early, it is very important for you to communicate with your landlord before you move out. The more transparent you can be, the more likely it is your landlord will try to work out a reasonable compromise with you.

  

Read your contract

Even before you reach out to your landlord, read your lease carefully. Look through each section to see if there is information about ending the lease early, and what the penalties are. Look for words like “early release,” “sublet” or “relet.”

The lease may state that you have to provide notice of your intent to vacate one or two months in advance, or that you have to find a replacement renter. Some leases will have an option for terminating the agreement right away, but they often come with larger fees and a loss of your security deposit.

  

Talk to your landlord

To stay on good terms, bring the topic up with your landlord as soon as you can. This shows that you respect your agreement and the person who agreed to let you rent their space in the first place.

If you need to break the lease immediately and can’t give the standard amount of notice specified in your rental agreement, you may consider offering to find someone to sublet from you, or pay a portion of the rent. Your landlord may prefer these options as opposed to potentially losing months of rent while trying to find another qualified tenant. 

  

Conclusion

It’s important to keep in mind that breaking a lease is a big deal for both you and your landlord. You both agreed that rent would be paid in full for a certain amount of time, and when you ask to terminate the lease early, that can put the landlord in a tough financial spot. That being said, life happens, and there may come a time when you must move out of your current property before your lease has ended.

Do your best to work with your landlord on a resolution. And don’t be too surprised if you are asked to continue paying rent until a new tenant can take over.

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