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How to Break an Apartment Lease Agreement Without Penalty

By Valencia Higuera

breaking a leaseLeases are legally binding contracts, and vacating a rental property before your lease expires can have serious consequences. But what are you supposed to do if you can’t make rent? You can skip the payment and dodge your landlord until you’re able to drum up the cash. However, this method rarely works and some landlords begin the eviction process once payments are 15 days past due.

In this situation your choices are few – either break your lease early, or risk having your belongings tossed out on the street. There are a number of consequences you may face by breaking a lease, but there are still ways to handle the situation tactfully and avoid major penalties.

Potential Consequences of Breaking a Lease

As hard as you try to avoid breaking your lease, sometimes, this is your only alternative. Unfortunately, breaking a lease can have major consequences, creating a domino effect that can impact your personal finances for years, as well as your credit score.

1. Civil Lawsuits
Because leases are legally binding agreements, your landlord can take legal action to recover back rent payments. In most cases, your landlord will win the lawsuit and a judge will order you to pay off the lease balance. Job loss, illness, or divorce can negatively impact your finances and hinder your ability to make your rent payments. But unfortunately, these excuses don’t legally excuse you to break a lease early.

2. Credit Judgment
A credit judgment is an order to pay a debt, and after hearing your case, a judge can issue a judgment against you. You can initiate a debt repayment plan in court or immediately pay the debt to avoid a judgment. Judgments are derogatory, and this information stays on your credit report for seven years. Since your landlord will most likely report the breach of contract to the bureaus – which will cause your score to drop – avoiding a judgment is key to lessening credit damage after breaking a lease.

3. Difficulty Renting a New Place
Renting a new home or apartment after breaking a lease can be challenging. Your new landlord can ask for rental references or review your credit report, and any negative information on your reports – such as an eviction, breach of contract, or poor payment habits – can cause future landlords to deny your rental application.

You can attempt to rent a new place before the breach of contract hits your credit report, but on the off-chance that your landlord inquires as to whether you’ve ever broken a lease early, be honest and open. Your new landlord will likely uncover your past in due time, and lying on an application or withholding information can cost you the rental.

breaking a lease can make renting a new home difficult

Breaking a Lease With Minimal or No Damage

You want to avoid a lawsuit and keep a good credit score. Besides, negative information reported to the credit bureaus can delay any plans of buying a house in the future. For this reason, you’ll need to break your lease without damaging your credit.

1. Check for Breach of Contract
As part of the lease, landlords agree to maintain the property and provide a safe, healthy environment. But regrettably, some landlords do not live up to their end of the bargain. They can ignore requests to replace nonworking appliances, or refuse to fix faulty plumbing and broken heating systems. Other issues with the unit can include mold or an insect infestation. Failure to keep rentals in good condition is called breach of contract, and if your landlord breaches the contract, you can break the lease without penalty.

You may need to prove that you tried to get the landlord to work with you, so keep copies of all correspondences sent to your landlord regarding issues with the unit and take pictures. If your landlord decides to sue, you can present these letters and pictures to the judge as evidence.

2. Look for an Early Termination Clause
Some landlords do not include this clause in the rental agreement, and if they do, they don’t always tell applicants. An early termination clause is a statement within some lease agreements that gives renters an “out” if they stumble upon hardship or encounter other situations. These clauses allow tenants to break a lease in the event of job loss, family/personal medical issues, divorce, or job transfer.

3. Beg for Mercy
If your landlord is a jerk and only cares about money, begging for mercy won’t get you far. But if your landlord is understanding, appeal to his or her emotions in order to get out of your lease early.

Speak with your landlord the moment you realize that you have to break your lease. The sooner you have the talk, the sooner you can move on with your life. Don’t hold back, but rather explain your situation in detail. This isn’t the time to be embarrassed. This conversation determines whether you can break your lease without penalty.

4. Pay Off the Lease Balance Over Time
Paying off the lease balance is one way to get on your landlord’s good side and break your lease without penalty. However, if you can’t afford to pay several thousands of dollars to clear the balance, ask about paying off the lease over several months. For example, if there are two months left on your agreement and you owe $2,000 on the lease, offer to pay off the remaining balance over 12 months and give your landlord $166 a month.

5. Forfeit Your Security Deposit
Most renters look forward to getting back their security deposit after moving out of a rented living space. But if you’re looking to break your lease and avoid credit damage, be ready to lose your security deposit. As a matter of fact, propose this option when negotiating with your landlord. This money can help your landlord maintain the property until a new tenant moves in. You can take it a step further and offer to clean and paint the apartment yourself, which can save your landlord time and money.

6. Find a Short-Term Renter
Subletting isn’t an option in many cases. But if your landlord doesn’t speak against subletting in your lease agreement, it’s worth a shot. This approach is very simple. Find someone who needs short-term accommodations and have this person take over your lease on a temporary basis. Subletting works best if you’re near the beginning of your lease term. Your name remains on the lease and you remain responsible for the rental. However, the sub-tenant writes the check for the unit each month. They send you a check, and you in turn send a check to your landlord.

there are ways to break a lease without suffering penalties

Final Word

Maintaining a good rental history scores points with your landlord. If you were to break your lease in the future, your landlord can recall your good rental history and empathize with your situation. But in the event that you can’t avoid credit damage, rest assured that you can rebuild your credit score and perhaps qualify for a mortgage in the future. Keep up with your other payments, keep debt to a minimum, and work to pay off any judgments.

What creative measures have you taken to get out of a rental lease early?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Valencia Higuera
Valencia Higuera is a personal finance junkie who enjoys reading articles on budgeting, saving money, and credit cards. She has written personal finance articles and blogs for several online publications. She holds a B.A in English from Old Dominion University and currently lives in Chesapeake, Virginia.

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  • http://www.cashadvance.co.uk/ Darren E

    Great article and excellent tips; a lot of folks often find themselves in a bind when they are forced to move elsewhere whether it is because of a job or a loved one. But I think your final note is very important, in that a tenant should always keep a good relationship with the landlord because when you want to break the least, the tenant is in the weaker position and would benefit from an understanding landlord.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706016573 Jeff Crews

    Apartment companies are out there for your money (just like any business). Before you do anything, make sure all the details are covered. I would also suggest being on good terms with the owners. It’s amazing how being on good terms can go a long way!

  • Valencia

    I agree that it’s best to stay on good terms throughout the lease. A history of being a difficult tenant doesn’t work to your advantage when you have to break a lease early.

  • http://www.sailmortgage.com/top-6-reasons-get-mortgage-in-pittsburgh/ Pennsylvania Mortgage

    Subletting seems by far the most viable option at the moment. There are plenty of young people looking to rent, who don’t even know if they’ll be working in the same city in six months. Besides, those other options all sound pretty problematic and a long shot if you actually signed on to a legit contract with a good person in the first place.

  • http://www.nextpay.com/prepaid_debitcard_solutions.php Mastercard Pre-Paid

    The best option is still not to break an agreement. If you do this again and again, it might become a habit.Not just in terms of rents but in other areas like family and career. And this can be very harmful. It would not only affect you but the people around you as well. As much as possible, one should keep up with his promises.

    Best regards,

  • brittney

    what if it has nothing to do with hardships, its just you do not feel safe anymore. i have watched ppl kill themselves as well as ppl get murdered where i stay. the landlord will not hear me or my husband out at all and told us to just stay in our house and we wont get hurt. i feel like they are telling us to live our life in fear, i’m excpecting a child hear soon and i dont think thats fair.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shyboy.cali Shyboy Cali

      i bet you live in el paso texas on the east side? worst place i ever lived.

  • Rachelsamommy

    so what if theres black mold in the apartment couple months ago my landlord had the roof redone and the ppl that did it did it when there was a thunderstorm warning so they took the roof off an put a tarp on it that same night our apartment flooded we called our landlord an she said stay there an clean it so nothing gets ruined pretty much meaning she wasnt gonna pay for anything that was damaged so we did when the storm storm stopped coming into our kitchen we noticed the wood above our ceiling was full of mold so we pointed that out to her the next day she said mold drys out an not to worry now i have mold everywhere ive tried cleaning it an nothing works we had gotten behind in rent because of this we lost our jobs cuz we had gotten sick from the 5 inches of water constantly on our flood an the mold pouring on to us so now she wants 3000 and i dont know what to do she still hasnt fixed anything except put the rest of the roof on anyone have any advise?

    • Edenvironmental

      I’m an Certified Indoor Environmentalist and in Florida this situation is not uncommon.
      I have successfully assisted several clients in this situation. The laws very state by state. You should consult with a local Certified Indoor Environmentalist and your Doctor to determine the best course of action.

    • mj

      Get a lawyer, you have a case

  • live in landlord.

    Can I break my lease if my landlord lives on the property when it wasn’t stated in the contract? When we moved in he verbly said that it will be a temporary situation only. Turns out he pulled in a trailer and his hired helper also lives in the barn. They did not pay for electricity bills until during the hot summer days our bills was so high that my husband made them pay for it. Every month he tells us that he will move out the next month. Next month came, nothing happen. It has been 6 months now and looks like he is not going anywhere. He said we can live if we want as long as we give him 30 days notice but I wanted make sure he can’t sue us down the line.

    • http://www.facebook.com/penelope.jane12 Penny Dobinson

      Get him to make up another binding contract or check your lease. That way if he tries to sue you you can produce the new signed contract. This may even be on your lease agreement.

  • aaaa

    If I have no social security number?
    Will that affect me?

  • Edithy02

    What if the landlord decides to terminate your lease on a reason to rebuild the property with a 60-day notice to vacate?

    • Tanglewoodterrace

      They are not allowed to do that without giving you another place on the property to live. My advice, tell them so. Tell the landlord you will bring them to court. Please ask for a copy of your leasing contract and read it to find loopholes.

  • Vfaith26

    what if it is a health issue? the tennant below smokes and it triggers your asthma?

    • Tanglewoodterrace

      If there was something that was not disclosed to you before you moved in that if known would have caused you to NOT move in then you can go in an talk to the Landlord. Tell them what’s wrong and that you want to move. It’s in our leasing contract we signed

  • Slickasice2

    if i’m a co signer how do i get out of a lease when boyfriend and girlfriend cant get along cause others kids. i know i had to deal with this one time when i had a roommate and all he had to do was sign a piece of paper saying he didnt wish to live here and no longer wanted to be on the lease. can i do that were i’m living at now.


    i sign a two year lease with my landlord. but my heat has been going out Moseley on the week in the office has close for the week. and there is know one to call and i am cold in my home. this has happen about four time do i have the right to brake my lease and move out. this is the coldest pace i have ever lived. HELP ME IF YOU CAN

    • http://www.facebook.com/penelope.jane12 Penny Dobinson

      I’m sure you can. You landlord has a duty to maintain his property for you. If he is not fixing your heat, you can break your lease. Just make sure you have written proof that you have asked them to fix it (email). My air con was taking 8 weeks to replace and I htreatened to break my lease as my Agent told me I had a right to. They fixed it right away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shyboy.cali Shyboy Cali

    what about if the landlord does nothing at all when you complain about another tenant harassing or threatening you, or garbage dumps in the back set on fire, or gangs starting trouble for everyone around. Loud obnoxious neibors…Even if the police are called out, they do nothing either. i know. Its happening to me now. Can i break the lease and not have penalties in these matters?

  • ley

    my top neighbor robbed from my bottom neighbor,i live at the bottom also and its a 4plex. they always have friends come over and get drunk and break bottles everywhere in the yard or driveway,once on my front porch. my husband is in the army and we want to move on post but we signed a year long agreement lease for centry 21. I don’t know how to get out of it and they tried to break in my place but didn’t succeed. I just need advice on how to get out of this.

  • http://twitter.com/Dragonfly122877 Jeff Donnelly

    Is a hardship clause mandatory for the apartments to offer meaning if it is not written in my lease can I still claim hardship and have it work

  • Toni

    What if I am on a sub-let lease?? This person I am renting a room from calls me every payday (I am paid up on my rent, but still calls me weekly to ask where I am???) I work out of town, have not been at the house all month, BUT he is telling me I STILL owe $50 for 1/2 the utility bill that I have NOT used…. Wants me to deposit it into his account, knowing I do road work (we work for same ccompany) and am working on a pass nowhere near town from 7 a.m. to 7-9 p.m., like he expects me to take a day off n stay in town to pay his beer and HIS power bill… I am fed up

  • Lee

    My apartment was broken into … I am on a 12 month lease, but I just do not feel safe living there …. can I break my lease and move out .. with out any penalty

  • Anna Cuevas

    A friend and I moved into a house with my husband. But we are not together, his girlfriend moved out on him and he could not afford the rent at all. So than he moved out before we got added to the lease. Was suppose to meet up with the landlord Friday but she never showed up. Now we have a 30 day notice on our door what could we do

  • Cindy B.

    We live in a duplex and we live in the bottom. Our upstairs tenants have little ones that are always running, jumping, screaming, slamming doors and throwing things on the floor. We work nights and sleep during the day so it irritates us. My husband id a truck driver and I work in a rest home, so we need our sleep. We live in a one bedroom apt and my son is living with us he is 8 yrs old and it is very cramped. Also, there is things that need fixed they came over and fixed some things but haven’t returned to fix anything else for like 4 months or more. When we voice our complaints to them they tell us things don’t revolve around you. We are like we know just have some respect for people who work nights and sleep during the day to b considerate of whom you place in the other apartment. My husband has talked to the people upstairs but they hardly speak any English. Plus, they have someone else living with them that we are sure isn’t on the lease. But, we can’t say anything to the landlord because we would be considered trouble makers or whiners by the landlord. I do not like disrespectful people but that is how people are nowdays. So, is this a legal way to get out of a lease agreement. Too crowded and noisy neighbors.

    • Amanda

      Hello, I am going thru the very same similar situation. Have you got a response back on your question cause I would like to know as well. Thanks

  • http://www.paxlistings.com/ PaxListings

    Excellent insights. If you want to break the lease then they you and landlords are required to try to find a new tenant if you move out early. But If your landlord is not able to find a new renter then you may be required to pay for the days the unit remains vacant.

  • kris

    I signed a 12 month lease with a cosigner due to poor credit from a divorce. I have more than adequate income to pay the rent and have paid on time or early for the last 12 months. It is time to renew the lease and the manager says I am required to have a cosigner again for this lease! I asked him how long a cosigner will be required and his answer was as long as he wants one! Is that legal??

  • rania

    we will buy a home in a month ,is this agood reason to break the lease without penalty

  • Amelia

    My apartments credited me 3 mo tha ago and are now trying to charge me with what they said I didnt have to pay is there anything I can do they say I have to pay 500 dollars with my rent or I’m going to be evicted

  • Etudela

    Hi, I just recently got a letter for a notice of termination for cause. I should not be limited on how many and who should visit me at my apartment, especially if they are family. Second, immediately after I signed my 12 month lease, I applied for a companionship dog and I provided a copy to my manager. Now they are saying that I am in violation for cause and they are for these two reasons. What is the best step to settle this matter with the apartment manager? Thanks.

  • Monica

    I signed a 12 months lease. My lease was set to end in August & I moved out in August. Do I still have to pay for the month of August & the month of September if it expired in August?

  • Don Omega

    We suspect the house we are renting is under foreclosure since the bank sent reps to lock up/winterize the home. The landlord claims it is not, but I do not believe him since they won’t put any money into the home. Since we don’t want to wait for the bank to kick us out if it is in foreclosure, Can we break the lease since the landlord is at fault for not paying his mortgage without reprocussions?

    • nikki

      Don omega u can break the lease ..or u can stay there and the bank will have to pay u to move .. keys for cash its,called u should be able to go on yr internet to yr ciry hall and look up yr place to see if it is,in foreclosure but u have time…

  • captjt

    One of other tenets at the house I rent a room at, keeps trashing the shared bathroom. (Fecal matter on walls, blood on tub, etc) I’ve told the landlord multiple times over three months. I’ve sent him pics. I’m tired of living like this. Is therre a way out of lease?

  • Confusedforsure

    I have recently signed a contract for a rental property. I have paid the security deposit and one month rental in advance. I was to move in next week. But now I’m having a change of heart and donot wish to move to the new place. Is there any way I can come out of this contract. Please advise, somebody. Thanks

  • Bhing

    I have a problem. I sign a contract to lease a house . Today I was in that property to clean my new house and the neighbors gathered around the house and told about the flood that going on the property.The owner did not mention flood at all. I sign the lease yesterday. They told me that mold in that property is bad. They just cover up with paint. Any advice? It’s been flooded 6 times in the last 4 years, the last tenants lost all furniture and both of thief’s cars. Can I get of this? I gave them first and the deposit.

  • disqus_8OKccgUa19

    My apartment managers gave me a letter to sign saying if I was going to stay for another year. I signed it saying I was, but was never given another lease to sign. Every year, except for the past two years, I was given a new lease to sign.
    Also, the lease states that management must take care of the outside. The sidewalks, although salted, are snow plowed by people who use leaf blowers. The parking lot has not been snow plowed yet, so there has been at least 6 inches of snow. They keep giving me old appliances that burn out quickly. The floor boards feel like they are going to give out. Can I break my lease? Do I have a lease?

  • RealLifeTroubles

    If staying in the lease will cause the tenant to default, and thus require the landlord to mitigate damages is this a valid reason for both parties to break a lease? Also, if the tenant has acted in good faith to try and reduce the cost of re-letting by giving up their security deposit and providing an extra months rent does this constitute an amicable action on behalf of the tenant? I could really use some help in my situation. I was provided a career opportunity that gave me little room to maneuver, and immediately put my two week notice in at my current job. So I am stuck moving out of state, where I will have a source of employment, but with a landlord who is reluctant to work with me on breaking the lease. I have even gone so far to help him, the landlord, by finding possible tenants. However, the landlord stated after my informing him of this emergency move, that he would raise the rent for a future possible renter since his other units are asking for more. Also, he is unwilling to record any verbal agreement and has chosen not to sign a new agreement. Do I have anything to go off of? If I have an infant daughter who is dependent on my income and he is putting me in this situation by asking me to pay considerably more, and unwilling to find a common ground, is he in a sense ‘causing economic hardship’ for my family? Given that I would be unable to move with this debt lingering and building.

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