Maybe you’re having serious roommate problems, or your employer is transferring you out of state. Maybe you just need more space, or want to move in with your boyfriend. For whatever reason, you want to move—but your lease hasn't expired, and it’s a binding contract. What are your options for breaking an existing lease?
Do I Have to Honor My Lease?
Your lease is a legal contract. If you break your lease, your landlord will likely have a legal claim against you. Walking away in the middle of a lease term can be expensive, and can have a negative impact in other ways, too. For example, if your landlord sues you for breach of your lease, the lawsuit will eat up time and money, will be a matter of public record and may impact your credit rating. If you need to move before your lease has expired, you’ll want to make every effort to work it out with your landlord.
Before you reach out, make sure that you know exactly what your lease requires. Although you may be legally obligated to pay rent for the remainder of the lease term, some leases provide an out.
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Talk to Your Landlord
Though your lease may bind you for another six months, your landlord may agree to modify the lease under certain circumstances. For example, if you let your property manager know that you’re going to be moving out of state unexpectedly because your husband got a new job or your mother is terminally ill, they may work out a compromise with you.
Understand the Law
In most states, your landlord has a duty to mitigate damages if you break your lease. That means that if you move out of a unit nine months before your lease expires, the landlord can’t just wait around for the clock to run out. He or she has to make an effort to re-rent the premises. Though you may be responsible for the costs of that effort, such as advertising the property, the landlord can’t double-dip. If you move out in September and she re-lets the unit in October, she can’t still demand that you pay rent through March.
Most often, a little knowledge and cooperation will make it possible to work things out with your landlord. And, if you’re making the choice to move, it’s generally in your best interests to try to work things out. Bear in mind, though, that the situation is very different if the reason you’re moving has to do with the landlord’s breach of the lease. If the problem is that the landlord won’t fix the heat, he’s probably already breached the lease and your rights are very different. In that case, consult an attorney or a tenants’ rights organization for help.
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