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How to Break a Lease with No Penalty Fees

Breaking a lease usually means paying between one and two months of rent as a penalty. Try these tips to reduce or get rid of your penalty fee.

Breaking a lease with less - or no - penalty is difficult but not impossible. If you are a good negotiator, and you spend some time preparing your case and putting yourself in the shoes of your landlord, you might just be able to pull it off.

We suggest you read through these these negotiating tactics and decide if one or more of them might work for you:

Prove that the situation is out of your control

Claim that leaving the lease is a necessity rather than a choice, and get evidence to support it. Assuming you are not facing a life threatening issue such as domestic abuse, or are in the Armed Forces, then your best bet is a letter from an employer stating that your job is changing.

Even if you can’t prove it, your landlord may empathize with your situation and cut you a friendly deal. Give them as much notice as possible, and tell them the whole story - even if its personal. If the reason you're leaving has anything to do with your ability to pay the rent, like a job loss, make sure that they understand this.

Make them see their options

If the landlord doesn’t agree to let you off the hook with a breakage fee and you don’t live in a state where they are required to mitigate damages, then you would have to pay the rent for the remainder of your lease.

Assuming you’re not drowning in cash this is probably not an option for you. Your best alternative may be to forgo your security deposit and leave. Point this out to your landlord, and when faced with a choice between taking you to small claims court or letting you pay half a month’s rent to break your lease they might take you up on a deal.

Look for loopholes in your lease agreement

It should go without saying that your first step should be do read your lease to find out if there is a sublets and assignments clause or an early termination clause. You may also discover an early termination clause that allows you to break your lease without a penalty in case of unforeseen personal events, such as tragedy or unforeseen financial downfall.

Check for illegal lease terms

If your lease has a provision in it that is clearly illegal then the lease is void and unenforceable. If this is the case, you don’t need to break your lease - you can just leave. Below are some common unenforceable lease terms:

  • Allowing the landlord to retaliate against the tenant for calling law enforcement or city officials out of concern for their own safety
  • Waiving the landlord’s duty to mitigate damages, and damage mitigation is in place in your state
  • Speeding up rent payments for breaking a rule in the lease
  • Stating that the tenant is solely responsible for damages
  • Stating that the tenant is responsible for all maintenance and repairs

Help your landlord make more money by letting you leave

Could your landlord put the unit back on the market now and get more monthly rent than you’re paying? If so, you can likely negotiate your way towards a reasonable breakage fee. Gather evidence that this is the case before you bring this up:

Look at the prices of listing in the building that have rented more recently than yours

Look at the prices of comparable listings in your neighborhood

If you want to go to the next level, market the unit yourself by creating a listing and sending them documentation of the amount of leads you got for which rent price.

Help your landlord improve their leasing schedule

Landlords like leases to come up for renewal in the the spring and summer. More people move when its warm out. This means there’s more demand for rental units, which means prices go up. If your lease is not on this schedule and you’re trying to leave in a warm month, then simply point out that this could be a fortunate turn of events for your landlord.

Evict yourself from the unit

There is one situation where it is okay to leave without notice and you cannot be expected to pay a fee. If there are grounds to claim that the unit is uninhabitable then you can evict yourself and you won't be liable for damages at all. In legal terms, this is called ‘constructive eviction’. You’re basically stating that, by not providing you with livable housing, the landlord has evicted you.

You must provide notice and document your living situation, including any communication with your landlord showing that they didn’t fix the problem.

Claim illegal entry

If your landlord has made a regular occurrence of entering your apartment without permission then may be able to terminate your lease without a penalty. You must send written notice to the landlord stating that you intend to do so based on the entry violation. Some state laws hold that you must give the landlord warning that you will terminate if the behavior happens again, choose your state from the list above to find out what the law says where you live.

Next steps

Trying to negotiate and terminate your lease without losing thousands of dollars is worth a shot, but if you're sure you want to save this money you should be prepared to actually find a new tenant, qualify them and sublet or assign to them.

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