As a renter, you’re entitled to certain things that might not explicitly be stated in your lease. It may not always be clear what these rights are. We’re going to do our best to make sure you know about as many of them as possible.
There are many situations that can occur to cause you to find yourself wanting to break your lease, as well as a few different ways to do it. Breaking a lease could turn into a time-consuming and expensive process, though, so before considering whether or not you can, you might want to take a quick moment to consider if you should.
The easy way
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to quickly get in touch with your landlord, explain your situation, and come to a simple agreement from which you both benefit. In this case, you’ll likely end up paying something like the remainder of your rent for the current period.
Pro tip: If you are able to help find a new tenant to take over the lease, this conversation is likelier to work out the way you want it to. You can even post your room or apartment on PadMapper and our sister site Zumper by using Post a Pad on our iOS or Android app to do this in an easy and efficient way.
If a casual conversation with your landlord doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to turn to your lease. Typically, you’ll find something called a break clause that describes the processes and conditions required of either the tenant or the landlord to legally break the lease before it ends.
The first part of giving notice is the how. It’s possible for a break clause to dictate the form in which notice is given, such as a written letter sent to one or multiple specific addresses. If these regulations do exist, it’s important to follow them closely as a minor violation could result in your landlord not having to accept your notice.
The second step is the when. The two timing components of breaking a lease involve the date your lease began and the date you plan to leave. Normally, the lease will require something like 20-30 days required notice before leaving. A bit less commonly, a break clause can contain limitations on breaking your lease dependent on how long you’ve been there. For example, it’s possible for a tenant to only be able to break a yearlong lease after having lived there for 6 months.
Pro tip: After having served notice of intention to break the lease, ask your landlord for a written agreement to work with you on doing so.
Aside from form and timing of notice, the break clause of your lease should also contain the conditions that must be met in order for you to legally break the lease (or for the landlord to do so in the opposite situation). These can include being up-to-date on rent at the time of leaving and ensuring that the current rental period is paid for if you’re leaving before it ends, vacating the apartment entirely and completing all outstanding repairs, or ensuring that all current tenants will be breaking the lease and vacating the unit.
Now, let’s dig a bit more into these conditions. Being current on rent payments is pretty self-explanatory and shouldn’t present much of an issue. If your landlord does require you to pay out the rest of the rent period, it’s typically easiest to bite the bullet and clear this up as soon as you possibly can so that you can move on with a clean slate. If you’re strapped financially, you can try to build a payment plan that allows you to make up for the lost costs to your landlord over the next few months.
You may also see the word dilapidation in your break clause. This intimidating word simply refers to the repairs for which you are responsible at the end of your lease. Whether there was damage caused during your tenancy or the original unit was modified in the context of interior decoration, you are responsible for returning the unit to the condition in which you moved into it, which also usually happens to be the condition you’re required to leave it in. Make sure that you’re aware of all of the repairs you’re responsible for by checking the other sections of your lease.
Pro tip: It definitely wouldn’t hurt to ask your landlord if there are any outstanding damages that he or she is aware of that you’ll need to have settled before leaving.
Pro tip II: Just as you, the tenant, are required to meet certain conditions of the break clause, your landlord has a similar obligation. Once you’ve given notice, whether or not you end up involved in the process of finding a new tenant, your landlord is actually obligated to advertise the unit and actively try to refill it. If another tenant is found before the end of the lease period, then you’re no longer going to be responsible for paying the rent that you were previously accountable for. The landlord’s responsibility to mitigate damages includes making sure that they are doing everything they can to make this happen.
Sometimes, you can try to go through all of these actions, but for one reason or another, the stars don’t align and you’re unable to get out of your lease without a bigger hassle than you can handle.
The most common option for getting around breaking your lease is subletting. If subletting is allowed, this could be the easiest way to move out without having to shell out the rest of the rent. On your own, you can find a new tenant to occupy the unit and pay the rent. Notable about this route is that you will legally still be the tenant on the lease, and therefore responsible for the actions as well as financial obligations of the person who is currently living there.
While this isn’t technically an “other” option because it does involve some of the same steps involved in the break clause and was mentioned briefly before, you can also settle with your landlord. If he or she is willing to cooperate, you can have a conversation where you go through the outstanding repairs, payments, etc. and come to an agreement on which ones you will be responsible for and which ones can be waived.
To wrap it up, here’s a list of things to be aware of thanks to the Tenant Resource Center in Wisconsin (the laws here are specific to Wisconsin but are similar to those in many states across the U.S.):
- The landlord can charge you for the difference in price if they weren’t able to rent it at the original price. (For example, if you signed a lease for $800/mo, and they rerented the property for $700/mo for a year, then you could end up being asked to pay $1200, the difference in price.) If you think that’s unreasonable, you’ll need to show that the landlord could have rented it at the original price (“here, look at all these people willing to pay that amount”), and possibly argue that in Small Claims Court, if you and your landlord aren’t able to come to agreement.
- Your landlord is allowed to charge advertising costs.
- Your landlord is not allowed to charge for their time.
- If landlords don’t normally take many steps to rent out their properties, then that’s all they have to do when mitigating damages. They don’t have to go above and beyond their normal level.
- Sometimes folks miscommunicate because “breaking a lease” can mean many things in regular conversation. If you are confused, ask if the other person means terminating the lease, canceling the lease, voiding the lease, subletting, or finding a new tenant to start a new lease on the property. Always get agreements in writing, so that if there is confusion later, you’ll have evidence of what your agreement meant at the time.
- The landlord doesn’t have to make your unit available before their comparable units (so, if they have a bunch of 2-bedrooms in the same building to rent out, they can show theirs before your 2-bedroom). However, they do have to make your unit available. If someone asks about the specifics of your unit, (“is #305 available?” “I’d like a 2-bedroom that is on the second floor or above, with windows that face North”), then your unit must be identified as available.
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