Whether it's a new job in a different city or a breakup, sometimes things happen in your life that just don’t fit with the terms of your lease. You have four options if you need to get out of your lease early: sublet, assign, pay a lease break fee, or move out after notifying your landlord (and hope they re-rent quickly). We’ll walk you through each choice below.
Even if you’re not sure which route you want to take, you can always start by finding a tenant interested in your rental. At that point you can decide—with the potential tenant and also with your landlord—if it makes more sense to break, sublet, or assign your lease.
Option 1: Sublet your rental
Subletting is the fastest and cheapest way to get out of a lease. You are technically still responsible for the rent payments, but someone else is living there and has agreed to pay them. Landlords are less likely to charge extra fees for a sublet. The approval process usually involves a review of your proposed sublet agreement and the credit, background, and employment information of your applicant.
Option 2: Assign your lease to someone else
Another option is finding someone who wants to move into your place, then transferring the remainder of the lease over to them. Your original lease remains active. It's simply assigned to the new tenant—meaning that the monthly rent and the end date of the lease remain the same, and the landlord isn’t responsible for repainting or cleaning up the apartment like they would be for a brand-new tenant.
Assigning is similar in some ways to subletting, but the big difference is that your relationship with the landlord formally ends. As long as they legally release you from the lease, you are no longer responsible for paying the rent. Landlords often charge between $100 and $1,000 for a lease assignment, and the approval process is exactly the same as when a renter applies for a new lease at your building.
Option 3: Pay a fee to break your lease
A lease break is when a landlord terminates the lease contract and puts the unit back on the market. This nearly always involves you paying some kind of buyout or penalty fee. These can be hefty—as much as two or three months’ of rent. You may be able to negotiate a lower fee in some instances, however.
Keep in mind, however, there are certain situations in which you’re legally allowed to break a lease with no penalties—for example, if you’re a service member and you’re entering active military duty in another location, or if your rental unit is in such bad shape that it’s become uninhabitable. Read through the laws in your state to see if you might have a valid reason to get out of your lease early without paying a fee.
Option 4: Move out and allow your landlord to re-rent the unit
Unfortunately, your landlord isn’t legally required to let you out of your lease—even if you’re willing to pay a fee. Depending on state laws and what it says in your lease, they aren’t always required to let you sublet or assign, either. If you’re dealing with an inflexible landlord, your only choice may be to inform them that you’re moving out and pay rent until they’re able to find a new tenant to replace you.
You should start by making sure you live in a state that requires your landlord to “mitigate damages”—a fancy legal term that means they have to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant to replace you. You’re only on the hook for the remaining rent until the next tenant signs a lease. (You can also be charged for your landlord’s additional costs in re-renting the unit, such as advertising or the difference in rents if they had to lower the price.)
If you’re in a popular rental market—New York City, say—there’s a good chance it won’t take too long for the place to rent. But if the rental market is slow where you live, you could end up being responsible for a significant chunk of money (especially if you have a lot of time left on your original lease). Keep in mind that your landlord only has a responsibility to look for a new tenant, not necessarily to find one. As you can see, this is the last option for a reason: it leaves a lot up to chance.
At this point, you may be wondering, "Can I just move out without telling my landlord?" Abandonment is when you pack up your stuff and leave without notice, forfeiting your security deposit. Your landlord can sue you for lost rent and report the incident to credit bureaus. This could make it very hard for you to rent an apartment in the future—and we don’t recommend it.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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