How to Break a Lease

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on August 18, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Times are tough and getting stuck in a long-term lease can complicate things when you need to relocate, or simply cannot make your monthly rent payments anymore. To understand how to break a lease, here is a quick primer on the rationale behind long-term rental contracts ...

Most residential lease agreements are for a duration of 6 months to 1 year, which provides security for both the landlord and the tenant. During this time, there are certain things in place to secure the renters' rights: the landlord may not raise the rent, change the terms of the lease, or act contrary to the lease. The lease also provides some assurances for the landlord, mainly the guarantee that the tenant will be in the unit, paying rent during the entire duration of the lease. By signing a long-term lease, a tenant cannot just decide to leave and not pay rent.

So how exactly can a tenant break a lease? A new job in a new city does not provide the legal grounds for getting out of the contract that you entered into. There are two basic scenarios that will help a tenant limit his financial obligations when breaking a lease: by agreement with the landlord, or re-renting the unit to a new tenant. Giving your landlord as much notice as possible and offering to search for the new tenant yourself are your best bets for limiting your continued liability on the lease. Advance notice may allow the landlord to rent the unit before you move out, making for both a smooth transition and a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Although tenants usually have valid reasons for breaking a lease, a landlord also has a financially valid reason for holding a tenant to the lease. If the unit is rented immediately, then a tenant can get out of the lease with little (if any) penalty. Otherwise, if the landlord has done his legal duty to try to rent the unit to no avail, then the tenant can be held responsible for the remainder of the lease. Keep in mind that, although your landlord does has a legal duty to mitigate damages when a tenant moves out early, this duty does not translate into an affirmative obligation to rent the unit if there is little interest.

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