How to Get Out of a Lease Early
If you want to get out of your apartment lease early, you should document everything, read your lease carefully, brush up on local and state laws regarding tenant and landlord rights, and be prepared to find a lawyer who can help if the landlord challenges you.
Breaking your apartment lease might not be how you imagined leaving your current place, but sometimes, getting out early is in your best interest, especially if your landlord is negligent, in violation of housing and rental laws, or if the property is substandard.
Putting Everything in Writing
First, read your lease carefully. You need to be aware of the fine print of the lease that you signed because that’s where your landlord or property manager will have the terms and conditions for early termination of the lease. The lease exists to protect the owner/manager, not the tenant, and the lease might require you to pay extra fees if you want to get out of your apartment early.
In the event that your landlord is derelict in their duty — they are not properly managing the property, for example — you can put your concerns in writing and use it as evidence to argue getting out of the lease early without being penalized. If your landlord tries to pursue legal action to get you to pay your termination fees, you can show evidence of their bad management to bolster your case.
Putting your concerns in writing is always a good idea when trying to get out of your lease. If your landlord agrees to let you out of your lease before it expires, get that confirmation in writing.
Even if your landlord is uncommunicative, have some paper trail to show that you’ve attempted to reach them. In the event that they take legal action against you, you will need to demonstrate that you tried every avenue to negotiate with them and that they were being the unreasonable party. Send your letters by certified mail, and don’t delete any emails or text messages, especially if the emails and texts have not been replied to.
Walk-Throughs & Security Deposits
Most leases will require you and the manager to conduct a walk-through before you vacate the property. If the state of the property is a reason (or the primary reason) you want to leave, take pictures that prove the condition of the property was not adequately addressed by the landlord.
A written or a visual record of the walk-through could rebuff any claims that the landlord might make to prevent you from breaking your lease. If the landlord doesn’t attend the walk-through or refuses to attend to justify your intention to leave, take pictures anyway. The more documentation you have, the stronger your case is to get out of your lease early without incurring any penalties.
As part of properly communicating with your landlord about getting out of your lease early, it is important to avoid making any assumptions about the terms and conditions of your apartment, no matter how long you’ve lived there. Don’t assume, for example, that your security deposit will cover any property damage, hidden fees, or rent. In some states, landlords are not legally prohibited from claiming your deposit if you break your lease, so make sure you know your state and county’s rental laws.
Warranty of Habitability
If your landlord has not been keeping the property in a livable state, residents are not only allowed to move out early, they have a legal entitlement to do so. This is known as “warranty of habitability,” a legal concept that landlords will meet their end of the contract to provide an adequate living environment for the people who pay to use the space.
In some states, the warranty of habitability is independent of local housing codes. If your landlord is not meeting the standard of habitability, you have early lease termination as an option.
You should still document everything, including your attempts to contact the landlord to resolve any problems. If there is credible evidence that the landlord has allowed the property to deteriorate to such a condition that it makes day-to-day living prohibitively difficult or dangerous, this does open the door for you to leave early.
When breaking a lease, it does not hurt to know the ins and outs of property and rental laws. Read your lease carefully, and check local and state laws to see if there is anything in your lease that gives you room to work with. Find a lawyer who specializes in this field if you think your landlord has acted illegally (like entering the apartment without your permission), refused to improve the living conditions, or simply ignored you.
How to Get Out of a Car Lease Early
An apartment lease is not the only kind of lease that you might want to get out of early. You might also be stuck with a car lease that is more trouble than it’s worth.
Can you get out of a car lease early? It is possible. If your leasing company allows you to terminate your car lease before it ends, you might still have to pay fees for the early termination. You will, naturally, have to surrender the car itself. The bright side is that if you pay all the fees and penalties that come with breaking the lease, your credit score should remain unaffected.
Instead of breaking your lease, you might be able to sell your leased car. You could even sell it back to the licensing dealership, or you can sell it privately to another person. However, the leasing company will likely require you to buy the car first before you can conduct a private sale.
Before You Sign That Lease... (May 1988). Harvard Business Review.
Tenants Share Nightmare Landlord Tales From Painted-Over Sockets to Mold. (August 2021). Newsweek.
Renter’s Guide: Ten Tips for Tenants. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Q&A: Landlord Must Do Walk-Through Inspection Before Tenant Moves Out. (March 2015). Los Angeles Times.
How to Get Your Security Deposit Back in California. (November 2020). Los Angeles Times.
How to Break a Lease on Your Apartment. (February 2015). Rent.com.
Implied Warranty of Habitability’. Cornell Law School.
Unshackled: Best Ways to Break a Car Lease. (September 2017). Forbes.
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