A lease agreement is a binding contract between a landlord and a tenant. If a tenant moves into a rental property, they often sign a lease agreement, which legally commits them to live in the rental for one year. What happens if the tenant has to move out before the lease ends? Learn how much it costs to break a lease.
- If you are considering breaking your lease agreement and moving out early, make sure it's worth the potential legal and financial consequences.
- Find out if you have the legal grounds to break a lease in your state and give notice of intent to leave as soon as possible.
- There are specific scenarios when you are legally justified in breaking your lease, including if your landlord illegally enters your apartment or harasses you or if you have a court order that says you can do so.
- Be financially prepared for the potential costs of breaking your lease, including ongoing rent, fees, or losing your deposit.
Justifiable vs. Unjustifiable Reasons To Break a Lease Agreement
Whether you can break a lease depends on why you are doing so. A tenancy agreement is a legally binding document between you and the landlord (property owner or property manager).
By signing the lease, the tenant has agreed to live in the rental, and pay rent, for the duration of the contract. Whatever clauses or terms are included in that document, they are upheld by the law (renters and landlord laws), and you do have to follow them.
|Reasons You Can Break a Lease||Reasons You Can't Break a Lease|
|Landlord Failing to Maintain Property||Relocating for a Job|
|Landlord Illegally Enters Apartment||Loss of a Job|
|Landlord Harasses Tenant or Violates Privacy||Purchasing a Home|
|Active Military Duty or Change of Station Orders||Getting Married|
|Victim of Domestic Violence||Disliking Rental Property Location|
|Illegal or Unsafe Apartment|
Justified Reasons Explained
While most situations do not qualify as legal reasons to break a lease, there are specific citations when you can break a lease early without penalty. These include:
- Your landlord fails to maintain the property: If the landlord fails to make repairs and provide maintenance, you can take legal action by going to court or reporting the landlord to a government agency such as the Department of Consumer Affairs.
- Your landlord illegally enters your apartment: A landlord cannot enter your apartment without permission and must provide notice before entering. No landlord is required to give notice when entering for emergencies like fires or floods, but there must be an emergency before they can enter without permission.
- Your landlord harasses you: If you have a landlord who is harassing you, then you have the legal right to break your lease. The law protects tenants from harassment by their landlords. Harassment can include verbal abuse, physical threats, threats to evict you, destruction of your property, or other behavior that make you feel unsafe. You can file for protection from harassment by your landlord and break your lease.
- You start active military duty or receive change of station orders: If you are an armed forces member, you may receive orders to go on active duty. If this happens, because you cannot refuse these orders, these reasons are legally justifiable to break a lease without repercussions.
- You are a victim of domestic violence: If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can take certain legal measures to help you get out of your lease. There are laws in place to protect victims of domestic violence, but it is crucial that you speak to an attorney to learn more about your rights.
- Your apartment is illegal or unsafe to live in: Check for a breach of contract on the landlord's part. If they fail to provide a clean, safe, or functional environment, you may be able to get out of your lease altogether. This is considered a justifiable reason to break a lease without financial repercussions.
If you live and rent in federal housing, contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and file a formal complaint. Contact your state's Office of Tenant Advocate (OTA) for landlord disputes or other renting complaints.
Unjustified Reasons Explained
Most situations do not qualify as legal reasons to break a lease. These include:
- New job: If you need to relocate due to a new job, unfortunately, this is not a legitimate reason to break a lease.
- Losing a job: Similarly, if you lose your job and become unable to pay rent or need to move out, you are still bound to the terms of your lease agreement.
- Buying a home: If you find the perfect home and are ready to sign the papers, keep in mind that you may end up paying rent until the end of your lease and other fees.
- Getting married: Changing your legal relationship status is another unjustifiable reason to break a lease.
- Disliking the location: Finally, simply disliking your unit or rental property location is not a valid enough reason to break a lease without consequences.
What About an Early Termination Clause?
Some landlords will include an early termination clause in their lease agreement. This clause allows tenants to terminate the lease early if they follow the early termination rules. The tenant will have to give proper written notice and pay a fee.
Written Notice: The clause will specify how much written notice the tenant must give the landlord to end a lease early. The required notice is generally 30 and 60 days before your desired move-out date.
Early Termination Fee: The clause will state how much the tenant must pay to end their lease early. The tenant will usually have to pay the landlord the equivalent of two month's rent if they want to end their lease early, but this amount could be higher or lower based on the lease clause between landlord and tenant.
If the tenant follows both of these requirements, the landlord will allow the tenant to end their lease early without any further penalty.
How Much Breaking Your Lease Lease Could Cost You
There is no standard amount a tenant must pay if they break a lease agreement early. It will depend on the lease agreement, the landlord, and state law. Below are six possible costs you may have to pay in order to break your lease early.
Early Termination Fee
If your lease has an early termination clause, you will be responsible for paying the amount in this clause. In many states, this amount may be one to two months' rent.
Rent for Remaining Months of Lease
If you end your lease early, you may still have an obligation for the remaining rent owed on the lease agreement. If you have four months left on your lease and your rent is $1,000, then you would be responsible for paying $4,000.
Forfeited Security Deposit
Depending on your lease agreement and reason for leaving, you may forfeit your right to have your security deposit returned to you.
Give your landlord as much advance notice of your need to break a lease as possible. Start searching immediately for a replacement tenant if that is expected of you by the lease and in your state. This will help minimize the time it takes to sublet your apartment and reduce your costs.
Pay Rent Until Landlord Finds New Renter
Most states require a landlord to actively look for a new renter. You would be responsible for paying rent for the remainder of your lease term or until the new tenant’s lease begins, whichever is sooner. You will be released of obligation/liability only once a new tenant is found and approved by your landlord.
Landlord Could Take You to Court
If you terminate a lease early, your landlord could take you to court. If the landlord wins, you will likely have to pay rent for any months remaining on the lease, forfeit your security deposit, and could be responsible for damages, court costs, and attorney's fees.
Advertising, Cleaning, or Broker’s Fees
Advertising, marketing, broker fees, listing, and cleaning fees should reflect how much time you have left on the lease. For example, if you have six months out of 12 left on your lease, you may be responsible for 50% of these costs; nine out of 12, you may pay 75%, and so on. Your landlord could also charge you for cleaning the unit and replacing the locks.
The Bottom Line
Breaking a lease is not always a straightforward process. You should be aware of the consequences before you make the decision to break your lease contract. Email or mail a letter with a notice of intent to leave as soon as possible. Leave the property before the agreed-upon date and arrange for a cleaner or leave the apartment in pristine condition. Check your state and local laws to learn your legal rights as a tenant and plan accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it my landlord’s job to look for a renter to replace me?
Most states require a landlord to make “reasonable efforts” to look for a new renter if the current renter ends their lease agreement early. Some states will also require the tenant to help find a new renter.
What if the new tenant pays less rent?
Even if a landlord can find a new renter, you may not be off the hook yet. If the new renter's monthly rent is less than your old rent, you may be responsible for paying the difference until your original lease agreement ends. For example, you had three months remaining on your lease agreement, with a monthly rent of $1,200. A landlord finds a new tenant, but the new tenant only pays $1,000 a month. You would then be responsible for paying the landlord the difference of $200 for the remaining three months, which would equal $600.
Will breaking my lease affect my credit score?
Breaking a lease early can affect your credit if the landlord takes you to court. If the landlord is awarded a judgment against you, it will appear on your credit report. Not only will it negatively affect your credit, but any future landlord who runs a credit check on you will also be able to see this information, which can impact your ability to rent an apartment. Therefore, breaking a lease could affect you monetarily and impact your future quality of life.
Updated byHannah Hottenstein
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
Tell us why!
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
City and County of Denver. "Residential Landlord Tenant Guide," Page 14.
Los Angeles County, Consumer and Business Affairs. "Landlord Entering Your Unit."
State of California, Department of Consumer Affairs. "California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights And Responsibilities," Pages 44-45.
Department of Justice. "The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)."
Washington State Legislature. "RCW 59.18.575 Victim Protection—Notice to Landlord—Termination of Rental Agreement—Procedures."
New York State Unified Court System. "Landlord/Tenant Answer in Person Fact Sheet (CIV-LT-91) #10: Warranty of Habitability," Page 4.
California Courts. "Security Deposits."
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “How Long Can Information, Like Eviction Actions and Lawsuits, Stay on My Tenant Screening Record?”