Living in a rented apartment with a fixed lease term, such as one year, allows you to feel secure that you have a place to stay. Sometimes, however, a fixed lease term is a mixed blessing, especially if you need to get out of your lease before the term is up. Breaking your lease isn't always difficult, but a lot depends on what's in the lease agreement.
Termination Clause in the Lease
Lease termination is easy if there's a termination clause in your lease. If the lease allows you to break it early, follow the terms in the lease.
For example, if the lease requires you to give 30 days' notice and pay a fee of one month's rent, then give the landlord 30 days' written notice, pay the fee, and make sure you're out of the apartment within the 30 days.
No Early Termination Clause in the Lease
Termination is more difficult if there's no early termination clause in the lease. However, some special circumstances allow you to break the lease and not be responsible for additional rent such as when:
- You're being deployed by the military.
- You're fleeing the premises because of domestic violence.
- The apartment is uninhabitable because of the landlord's failure to repair despite your written requests to make repairs.
- In some states, you're going into a retirement home.
In each case, notify the landlord by writing an early termination of lease letter so they're not in the dark. If you don't notify the landlord, you may have to pay all of the remaining rent, or they could sue you for the rent plus court costs.
Mutual Lease Termination Agreement
If your lease doesn't have an early termination clause and you don't have special circumstances, the next step is to negotiate with your landlord. Life brings unexpected changes, such as job relocation, divorce, and loss of income. If the landlord knows you truly need to leave, they may give you a mutual lease termination agreement.
Mutual lease termination agreements are contracts where you and the landlord agree, in writing, that you'll vacate the apartment by a certain date.
Usually at least one of the following applies in exchange for your not paying the remaining rent:
- You'll forfeit your security deposit.
- You'll pay a few months' rent.
- You'll pay an agreed-upon fee.
- You won't pay anything so long as you find a new tenant.
- You won't pay anything if you sublease the apartment.
You may want to have an attorney review your mutual termination agreement before you sign it. You can put whatever terms you want in your agreement. If you're not forfeiting your security deposit, make sure the agreement states the date by which the landlord must return the security deposit.
Termination of Lease Letter
If you have to break your lease, you must send the landlord a termination of lease letter. In most states, you must give at least 30 days' notice, and you have to vacate before the 30 days are up. Sixty days' notification of lease termination is even better, and some states require it. Sixty days usually gives the landlord time to find another tenant.
In most states, landlords have the duty to minimize the financial damage, which is known as "mitigating the damages." This means the landlord can't sit idly by, allowing the apartment to remain empty while charging you a lease termination fee. The landlord must proactively seek a suitable tenant to replace you. A replacement tenant relieves you of most of your indebtedness to the landlord.
Contents of a Termination of Lease Letter
A termination letter requires a short, to-the-point, and somewhat formal structure. It should contain the essentials, such as:
- Your name, and the landlord's name and address
- The date you're writing the letter
- Informing the landlord you're breaking your lease early
- The reason why you're breaking your lease
- The building and apartment you're vacating
- The date by which you're vacating
- Acknowledging, if applicable, that the lease requires a certain penalty if you break the lease early
- Acknowledging you'll pay the landlord the above penalty when you vacate
- Asking the landlord when they'll inspect the apartment
- Providing your new address and phone number
- Reminding the landlord that you're still entitled to your security deposit
- Noting that you'll clean the apartment and return the keys
- Your name and signature
Make a copy of the lease termination letter, and don't move out without sending it to the landlord first. If you fail to give the landlord proper notice, they can sue you or charge you rent for the remaining months on the lease.
Above all, help ensure the landlord actually receives the letter. You can send it by either certified and regular mail, or hand-deliver it. If you need assistance preparing the lease termination letter, you can find templates online, or you can consult with an attorney.