Most contracts between landlords and tenants include clauses about breaking a lease. In many cases, it’s possible to break a lease, but it’s going to cost you a pretty penny to do so (unless you have a very generous, forgiving landlord and/or a lot of advance notice, allowing them to fill the home with new tenants prior to your departure).
If you’ve considered breaking a lease, your first step should always be thoroughly reviewing your lease contract to see what penalties (financial, legal) may be involved. You should also read your state’s tenants’ rights laws to make sure your landlord isn’t trying to enforce an unenforceable clause when it comes to early lease terminations.
Break Home Lease Early?
Once you have reread your lease agreement (keeping a close eye on words and phrases like “sublet” or “early termination”) and understand your rights as a tenant, it’s up to you to decide if the consequences of terminating earlier than you originally planned are worth it. Here are some scenarios to consider before making the move or staying put.
Relocating for a New Job
If you receive a new job offer at an organization that’s too far away to justify the commute, should you break the lease right away and begin home hunting in the new area close to your future job? If your employer offers to cover a substantial amount of moving expenses – some even cover fees related to early lease terminations – then it would be a no-brainer to break your lease and move to a new home closer to work.
If your employer doesn’t offer financial assistance for relocations, then the pathway forward becomes murkier. In some cases, you may have to forfeit your security deposit and pay for 2-3 months’ rent (if not the entirety of your rent, based on the months remaining on your lease contract). For example, if your security deposit was $1,000 and your monthly rent is $2,000, would it be worth moving closer to work if you have to pay $6,000 (assuming you break the lease 3 months before it’s up for renewal) and you lose the $1,000 you put down in the beginning?
If it’s a high paying job with a great title, benefits and other perks compared to your current job, then the long-term gain may be worth the short-term pain (just don’t drain your savings in the process, since no job is ever guaranteed to work out flawlessly).
On the flip side of a new job offer, what if you lose your job while renting and can’t afford to keep up with the costs of rent? If you’ve only been unemployed for a few weeks or a couple months, the costs of breaking a lease may not be worth it (unless you have stable back-up housing options, such as temporarily moving in with family or friends).
However, if you’re dealing with longer-than-expected unemployment, then it may be worth getting out of your lease for a more affordable option. Alternatively, check if your lease contract allows for subletting, which involves the tenant or landlord finding a new tenant to move in (while the original tenant typically remains responsible for the housing unit until the lease period expires).
What if you decide to cohabit with a boyfriend/girlfriend and you break up after moving in together? Or one of your roommates randomly decides to move out all of a sudden? Or a roommate dies, leaving you without a vital source of income towards the monthly rent payments?
Regardless of what roommate issue you may encounter, it could be worth breaking a lease early to avoid a troublesome living situation (e.g., ex-partners sharing a one-bedroom apartment) and the problematic financial burden that comes from a roommate suddenly leaving or passing away.
If there’s no way you could afford the apartment/house on your own income, then talk to your landlord before terminating the lease. Explain the situation and ask what your options are; you may compromise on a better idea than simply terminating the lease (e.g., find another roommate and get an extension on 1-2 months’ rent, for example). Landlords are in the business to make money, but they’re also human. If you’ve been a good, reliable tenant in the past, then that may make them more likely to want to help you out if trouble with roommates ever comes up.
Seeking Lower Cost-of-Living Area
If you’re tired of living in your current area – whether due to the weather, costs, job opportunities, lack of social events, etc. – then breaking a lease wouldn’t make much sense because there’s no urgent, compelling reason to do so.
Simply wanting to live somewhere with nicer weather, kinder people and lower costs of living is not enough to justify breaking a lease, unless your landlord has extremely favorable terms in your contract (e.g., lose half your security deposit but pay nothing else).
Leasing: To Break or Not to Break?
There are plenty of instances where breaking a lease on an apartment, condo or house could make sense. When your rationale for doing so is predicated on something urgent that could improve your living situation (e.g., new job opportunity or better roommates), then read your contract and do the math before finalizing your decision.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to the question of breaking a lease early, but you’ll likely be better off with careful research, calculations, and deliberation beforehand.