BREAKING A LEASE – by David Dorfman, RentLaw.com
WHY TENANTS WANT TO BREAK A LEASE
There are many different reasons why a tenant may have to break a lease.
- job transfers
- change in martial or family status
- health issues
- upsize or downsize
THERE IS NO LAW, RATHER A FINANCIAL OBILIGATION IF THE TENANT BREAKS A LEASE
There is NO law that says that the tenant cannot break their lease.
However, by law and by the lease contract, the tenant may be financially obligated to the landlord for rent and other charges to the landlord for them to re-rent the unit.
NOTE: READ YOUR LEASE BEFORE you sign it AND UNDERSTAND what you are signing.
LANDLORD AND TENANT RESPONSIBILITIES WHEN A LEASE IS BROKEN
TYPICALLY, once you notify the landlord you intend to move before your lease is due to expire, BOTH you and the landlord must make good faith efforts to find a new tenant. This is called mitigating damages (lessen the amount the tenant owes). The landlord must make an honest (good faith) attempt to rerent your unit using such things as a sign on the property, ads in local paper, contacting one or more real estate agents etc.
The Landlord should document everything they do in their attempt to rerent the unit – typically at the RENT THE CURRENT TENANT IS PAYING.
The landlord, in an attempt to mitigate (reduce) the amount the tenant owes, may take LESS then the former tenant and then the former tenant may then be liable for the total difference for the term.
STAYING YOUR TERM – NOTIFY LANDLORD
EVEN IF YOU PLAN on staying to the end of your lease term, the TENANT must typically notify the landlord 60-90 days in advance that they will not be renewing their lease. MANY LEASE CONTRACTS have an AUTOMATIC renewal clause.DON’T get caught by this. SAME for Landlords. Don’t be surprised even if you have the automatic renewal clause. Save yourself a headache and send a letter to the tenant asking them if they are going to renew their lease for another year. DON’T take it for granted that they are staying. DON’T be afraid you might be giving them an idea either. In many cases, you ARE required by law to offer a renewal lease.
BEFORE you decide to move out and break the lease, READ YOUR LEASE and see what you may be responsible for.
READ YOUR LEASE. IT CONTAINS THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS AND WHAT THE LANDLORD MAY CHARGE YOU FOR. IF NOT, STATE LAW DOES.
CHECK WITH A LOCAL LEGAL AID SOCIETY OR FIND A LAWYER.
If you have to move before your lease is up consider SUBLETTING your unit.
MOST LEASES require you to get permission from your landlord. There are pros on cons of subletting. See more on SUBLETTING
USING THE CONDITION OF THE UNIT TO BREAK YOUR LEASE
You may think there is an easy way out of your lease. There could be an “out” IF…. there are serious issues with the unit. Serious doesn’t mean a car horn – we mean water leaks, mold, failure to provide services etc.
To protect yourself whether or not you are planning on moving or not, you must notify the landlord in writing (certified mail) that there is a condition that needs to be addressed.
IF the landlord fails to correct the problem in a “reasonable” time, you MIGHT be able to break the lease on that.
Again, we use the word MIGHT. Consult a lawyer as we are not. This is only for reference.
YOUR SECURITY DEPOSIT AND BREAKING YOUR LEASE
In most cases, you cannot use your security deposit as last month’s rent. EVEN if you break your lease, give your landlord your new address.
Refer to our guide on SECURITY DEPOSITS.
TALK TO YOUR LANDLORD
Talk to your landlord. Be sure to have an lease termination agreement in writing. READ IT. BOTH of you sign it. Tell them and in writing on the date you are going to vacate the apartment and do a walk-though (like you should of when you moved in). Refer back to our guide on NORMAL WEAR AND TEAR. You will be liable for any damages beyond “normal”.
THE LANDLORD CANNOT COLLECT DOUBLE RENT – RENTING FOR LESS
The landlord cannot collect double rent.
Ask a neighbor to let you know if the the unit gets rerented and when or if you can check it out, do so.
Most state laws protect the tenant from landlords who will charge the tenant who broke the lease rent even though the unit got rerented.
The LANDLORD can rerent the unit for LESS then what you paid and you may be liable for the difference – but only for the period that remained on your lease.