Don’t try to break your lease before exploring options that can save you money.

4 minute read

Now that the moratorium on evictions imposed by the CARES Act is over, renters who lost jobs or are still struggling financially due to the pandemic could now face eviction. Even if you’ve managed to stay up-to-date on rent payments during the crisis, maybe you’re considering moving to a less expensive apartment or town to save money.

But what happens when you still have months left on the 12-month lease you signed when you moved in? That depends. You could end up on the hook for all the rent owed for the remainder of your lease – or maybe you can find a way to get around that financial obligation.

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1. Know the terms of your rental agreement

Know the terms of your rental agreement

Before you approach your landlord or apartment manager about breaking your lease, dig the rental agreement out of your files and review the terms.

Is there information about subletting if you need to break the lease? Are any fees associated with breaking the lease? Are there exemptions that allow you to break the lease without penalty such as accepting a job offer in another city? How far in advance must you give notice?

Arming yourself with this information will make you a better negotiator and let the landlord know you’re an informed, responsible tenant.

Find out: 8 Big Renting Myths Landlords and Tenants Believe

2. Be upfront about your situation

Be upfront about your situation

When it comes to needing to move because you can no longer afford the rent, honesty is the best policy. So be upfront with your landlord or apartment complex manager about what is going on in your life that is prompting you to move to a less expensive place.

Remember, the landlord has financial obligations related to your rental space too such as a mortgage, insurance, and maintenance. They depend on your rent to take care of those expenses. So he or she wants a tenant who can afford to pay on time.

If you offer a valid reason why you can’t afford the apartment – losing your job, for example –  the landlord may let you out of the lease with no (or a reduced) penalty.

Find out: How to Spot a Terrible Landlord Before You Rent

3. Ask about subletting

Ask about subletting

Renters who wish to break a lease early often sublet to another renter who then lives in the apartment until the lease is up. Ask your landlord if you can find someone to sublet your apartment for the remaining months on the lease.

To find a subletter, ask friends, family, neighbors, your hairdresser, and everyone you know. Let people on social media know that you’re looking for someone to sublet. Advertise on Craigslist and post a notice in the apartment complex multi-use rooms that a sublet opportunity is available.

Find out: Don’t Get Blindsided by These 11 First Apartment Expenses

4. Try to find a new renter

If you come to your landlord with the name of a friend who wants to rent with a new lease, your apartment manager or owner may be open to starting fresh with a new tenant who can afford to pay rent on time.

Many apartment managers are also open to letting you out of your lease early and without penalty if they are able to find a new renter to take your place in that apartment. If you must move without a new person to rent yet, ask if you can be off the hook for the remaining months once a new person rents the apartment.

Find out: 8 Strategies to Get Approved for an Apartment When You Have Poor Credit

5. Negotiate with your landlord

Negotiate with your landlord

If your lease says you must pay fees, forfeit your security deposit and pay rent for the remaining months on the rental agreement, try to negotiate with the landlord or apartment complex manager for a better exit situation.

For example, maybe you could pay the fees outlined in your lease but still keep all or half of your security deposit. Or, perhaps you could offer one extra month’s rent in exchange for being allowed to break the lease early without penalty.

Find out: How to Spot a Terrible Landlord Before You Rent

6. Get agreements in writing

Get agreements in writing

Make sure you get in writing any agreement to let you break your lease early with no penalty or with reduced fees. If your landlord agrees to let you find someone to sublet, get that agreement and all the terms and conditions in writing.

Never accept only an oral agreement that it’s okay to break your lease. Make sure you keep thorough records of all communications about breaking your lease with the landlord so you don’t run into problems after you move out.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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