Life is filled within uncertainties. Even if you signed an apartment lease with every intention of complying with its terms, the reality is that something abrupt could change your circumstances. It’s not unusual for your plans to shift, but that doesn’t make your decision to break your agreement any easier. And worse, there are serious financial and legal considerations for anyone learning how to get out of an apartment lease.
The process can certainly be difficult and there are risks involved. On the bright side, a little preparation and understanding can help you get out unscathed. Here’s everything you should know before you jump in.
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What Risks Do You Run When Breaking a Lease?
Unless you can negotiate a deal with your landlord, breaking your rental agreement will hold you legally accountable to the conditions for termination outlined in your lease. As a contract, these terms are legally enforceable. This means you probably need to make payments as a penalty for your early departure.
Meanwhile, your landlord is obligated to find a new tenant to mitigate damages once you’ve terminated your lease. The added strain on your landlord could sour relations between you, of course. But you might have leverage to negotiate a more favorable end to your lease, especially if you’ve developed a reputation as a credible, trustworthy tenant.
How Breaking an Apartment Lease Affects Your Future
If you break your lease and don’t pay out the remainder of your rent, your landlord may decide to sue you. Should the courts rule in favor of your landlord, you’ll face a money judgment, also known as a credit judgment. While judgments no longer appear on consumer credit reports and may not adversely affect your credit score, you may be subject to garnishment and have your assets and wages seized.
Any debts incurred from the broken lease may hinder your finances moving forward. In addition, your old landlord could report your broken lease to any potential future landlords running background checks on you. This will inevitably make it more difficult for you to find housing.
There are a lot of risks to consider when seeking to break your lease. But with adequate preparation and composure, you can reduce some of the stress and work with your landlord to make sure you have a mutual understanding.
What Should You Do to Get Out of an Apartment Lease?
Awareness and communication are key to getting out of an apartment lease unscathed. Taking the right steps from the start helps you navigate past any troubling concerns. Hopefully, you can determine an arrangement that works for you and your landlord.
Consider the following steps to protect yourself:
- Carefully review your lease and document your claim: First, read over your rental agreement, specifically looking for further clarification on breaking your lease or subletting. Under flexible terms or if there’s no mention of subletting, you may negotiate a solution with your landlord that’s in both of your best interests. In the event that your motivations for leaving could be legally justified, keep thorough documentation on any information that supports your claim.
- Talk with your landlord: It’s important to be as transparent as you can with your landlord. Have you demonstrated reliability as a tenant by always paying on time and maintaining your apartment well? If so, your landlord may be more sympathetic than you’d expect.
- Find someone to take your place: Since your landlord is primarily concerned with keeping their apartment occupied, offering to assist them in finding a replacement could ease your landlord’s stress. Try to sublet your apartment for the remainder of your lease — if your landlord is willing. From that point, you can attempt to transfer your lease, waiving you of responsibility after moving out.
- Make sure you get everything in writing: Any arrangement that you discuss with your landlord should be documented in writing. You want to ensure that you’re protected legally, so don’t rely on any sort of verbal agreement. One way to naturally ensure this is through email correspondence. Keeping a paper trail is vital to ensure you aren’t taken advantage of in the event of a misunderstanding.
- Seek consultation: Research your rights as a tenant. If you feel as though your landlord is doing something wrong, seek legal advice. With detailed documentation, you can present legal consultants with information on your case. They’ll be able to assess whether or not additional actions should be taken.
Can You Be Legally Protected When Breaking Your Lease?
You may be entitled to break your lease without being held liable for financial penalties — under certain conditions. The law on breaking your lease varies between states. Therefore, it’s important to research how state law could affect your decision.
Some of the most frequent circumstances with minimal legal consequences could include:
- You’re a victim of domestic abuse: Several states allow victims of domestic abuse to break their apartment leases without suffering any penalty. If you feel as though you’re in danger, you can leave. Landlords may request proof of your claim, which could be presented in the form of a police report.
- You’re on active military duty: The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to break your apartment lease without receiving a penalty if you’re ordered to relocate for the service over a period of a least 90 days. You must provide your landlord with a notice 30 days in advance of when you intend to break your lease.
- Your apartment has become uninhabitable: You can terminate your lease if your apartment does not abide by health and safety regulations. Your landlord is required to provide and maintain a secure, suitable living space. If they fail to do so, your well-being could be at risk and you hold the right to leave. When filling a complaint with your landlord, provide thorough documentation on your concerns in case the matter ends up in court.
- Your landlord enters your apartment illegally: Your landlord must provide you with a valid reason for entering your apartment. Preferably, they’ll give you at least 24-hours notice. If a landlord is regularly entering your apartment, you should obtain a court order requesting the landlord to cease. If the order isn’t followed, then it’s within your rights to break your lease and leave.
- Your lease has an early termination clause: Some apartment leases may include special clauses in the event of an employment change, marital change or serious family emergency. These special exceptions typically require some manner of documentation but cover you from circumstances falling beyond your control.
How to Get Out of an Apartment Lease (With Minimal Stress)
Leases are contracts, and you’re responsible for holding up your end of the agreement. This can make figuring out how to get out of an apartment lease challenging, even if it’s for a valid reason. Breaking your apartment lease doesn’t have to be an agonizing process, however. Communication, preparation and respect will all go a long way in helping you through this complicated process.