Can a Tenant Break a Rental Lease?

Written by lainie petersen Google
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Signing a lease obligates you to pay rent, even if your circumstances change or your landlord does not meet her maintenance responsibilities. Yet, some laws and lease terms might give you the option of moving out, and on, if your landlord doesn't meet his responsibilities, or if you are willing to pay a termination fee. Just be sure to get any lease termination agreement in writing, as protection against a future lawsuit by an unscrupulous landlord.

Leases and Rental Agreements

A lease is a binding contract between you and your landlord. Just as your landlord cannot force you out of your home mid-lease simply because she feels like it, neither can you walk out on a commitment to rent a home for the period covered by the lease. Unfortunately, this also means that even if you have a good reason to move out, such as a job transfer or serious financial or health problems, your landlord is still entitled to receive payment for the balance of the lease.

Grounds for Termination

Some states and cities give tenants the right to break their leases under certain, usually extreme, conditions. Grounds for early lease termination vary by state and locality, but may include situations in which a tenant is the victim of domestic violence or stalking, or the rental unit is uninhabitable and the landlord will not make needed repairs or pay the utility bills.

Federal law gives members of the military, and their families, the right to terminate their lease in case of deployment. The service member or her family is still responsible for paying rent for the next 30 days after the rent is due, even if they are not living in the rental home.

Termination Clause

Some leases have an early termination clause that allows you to pay a fee in exchange for the landlord releasing you from your obligations. If you have not yet signed a lease, you can sometimes negotiate adding such a clause if it isn't already included.

Landlord Obligations

If your lease does not have an early termination clause, and you don't have legal grounds for terminating your lease, you may still not have to pay for the rest of your lease term. Some states require landlords to make a good faith effort to find a new tenant so that you are not on the hook for the rest of the lease.


Breaking a lease, even if you believe that you have good reason to do so, is a serious matter. If the law in your state or town doesn't give you specific lease termination rights, your ex-landlord may sue you in court. If he wins, you can be required to pay the balance of your lease, damages, legal fees and court costs. You will also have a judgment on your credit report for seven years or, if it is unpaid, until the statue of limitations on judgments runs out.

If your landlord does agree to let you out of your lease, be sure to get this agreement in writing. Have your landlord sign and date the agreement, and, ideally, have it witnessed or notarised. Never rely on an oral agreement to terminate a lease.

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