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Breaking a Lease: What You Can Do to Minimize Penalties

It’s time to move again. Whether you’re starting a new job, you are getting married, or you simply have to move to another place, breaking the lease contract on your apartment is a difficult thing to do, and it brings about serious consequences. Like any other contract, a rental agreement implies you keep your end of the bargain. However, life gets crazy and sometimes there is no other option but to end the contract early. In such cases, you want to minimize the penalties that might occur because of your decision. First, you need to understand what the process implies.

What happens if you break a lease and what are the consequences of breaking a lease?

The moment you sign the rental contract on an apartment, you are legally bound to paying a sum of money for a certain period, usually one year. In the event of breaking this agreement, there are multiple consequences that will reflect negatively on your credit score and credit report, which in turn affects your ability to get a new rental contract. Typically, breaking a lease agreement means losing your security deposit, paying the remaining rent owed through the end of the term, or both. If the landlord or management company is not willing to negotiate an early termination and your contract doesn’t allow it, you might even get sued.

RentCafe moving truck on the road relocating after breaking lease


When is it acceptable to break a lease?

There are situations when penalties for breaking a lease agreement do not apply. These cases include being called to active military duty or having to relocate because of a military order. If you suffer from serious injuries or illnesses which require you to move to an assisted living facility, you are allowed to end your contract earlier. In some cases, if the apartment becomes uninhabitable through no fault of your own, you could break the lease contract with no penalties. However, you need to have proof of how the damage occurred and be able to make your case. Check the state legislation on this matter as well, as you might find something to cover you there.

How much does it cost to break a lease and how can you minimize penalties?

If you don’t qualify for any of the previous situations, there are other options for you to get away with as little damage as possible. Here are a few examples of how to get out of a lease contract:

  • Know your rights and obligations: Go through your contract again very carefully, as in most cases it tells you what the consequences for breaking the lease are. You should also look for what the agreement says on subletting or assigning the rental contract, as finding a new tenant might be a solution for you. However, your landlord or management company might decline prospective assignees or sublettees, which brings us to the next point.
  • Talk to your landlord: Transparency is very important, so you should let your landlord or management company know that you plan on moving the very moment you decide. If you give them as much notice as possible, they will be more willing to cooperate, and you can figure out a solution together. If they agree to find a new renter, you are covered. You can offer to clean and renovate the apartment, or have them keep your security deposit to cover the rent until finding a new tenant. If they are unwilling to cooperate, look for tenants’ associations. These organizations help you better understand your rights and your obligations, and they can help you with the entire process.

RentCafe couple going over contracts and costs for breaking lease

  • Be ready to pay: It’s best to prepare for the worst, as sometimes things get out of your control. If nothing else works, have at least two months’ worth of rent ready, until you figure out what to do. You can offer to keep on paying until the end of the lease contract or give up your security deposit. Some rental agreements include an opt-out clause, which discusses the fees you have to pay for breaking the lease agreement. Offer to pay off the lease balance over time, as it might save you some money depending on your initial agreement.
  • Talk to a lawyer: This sounds extreme, but if you have a legitimate reason for leaving the apartment and your landlord or management company refuses to help you, you can look for legal advice. If the apartment is uninhabitable or there are problems that you have asked your landlord or management company to fix but they didn’t, you have a case. Make sure to get everything in writing so you have proof. Take pictures and record everything, you never know what may be helpful.

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Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec is a writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart. Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics. You can get in touch with Mihaela at

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