Whenever you rent an apartment or any real estate, you hope that you'll be happy living there and that you'll be able to stay for as long as you need. Most of the time, this works out well, but sometimes renters need to leave before the end of the lease term.
Can a tenant terminate a lease early? What happens when a tenant breaks a lease? Is it any different if a landlord is not fulfilling the contract?
In some circumstances, tenants can terminate their rental agreement and leave without worrying about paying the rent for the remaining months of the lease after giving notice in a reasonable time. The three instances in which this is possible are:
The landlord must sustain the habitability of the rental property by maintaining the common areas and providing heat and hot and cold running water (among other things). If the landlord fails to do that, then the tenants can leave without paying the rest of the rent. This is called constructive eviction. Of course, tenants first need to give proper notice to their landlord about the defect and give the landlord legally sufficient time to make the necessary repairs before considering breaking the lease.
Tenants should take pictures of the defect and save any correspondence to and from the landlord so that they can prove the apartment was uninhabitable in case the landlord brings the case to a small claims court.
Tenants also have the legal right of quiet enjoyment of their rental unit. This simply refers to the tenant's right to enjoy and use the rental property without intrusion from other building residents, the landlord, or other persons.
Sometimes you have to leave the apartment for some other reason — like taking a new job or to be closer to family for some time. In these cases, you can try to sublet by finding a new tenant to take over the rest of the lease. If the new tenant agrees to pay the remaining months' rent, then the landlord is not in any worse position, and you typically do not have to worry about the rent. It should be noted, however, that unless subleases are allowed by your local laws and the terms of the lease, your landlord may have a say in the qualifications of a potential renter.
Maybe you're leaving the apartment after staying there for a long time, and you've formed a good relationship with the landlord. Your landlord may just agree to let you leave before the end of your lease without paying the rest of the rent.
If they agree, try to get a written agreement (called an early termination notice) just in case you need to prove this agreement later. It is also a good idea to give written notice as a courtesy. Usually, 30 to 60 days' notice is the rule.
If none of the above is a possibility, you can still break your lease. However, you may have to pay some or all of the remaining rent payments left on your lease should the landlord pursue the matter. The amount may vary depending on:
You also may be able to get the security deposit back, unless you have unpaid rent due. See FindLaw's section on landlord-tenant law for more information.
There are plenty of reasons why a tenant may need to break a lease early, such as moving for a new job or a sudden change of finances. But regardless of the reason, landlords don't have to release you from your lease obligation in most cases.
If you have questions about terminating the legal obligation of your lease, or need help protecting your rights as a tenant, you may want to contact a local landlord-tenant attorney who will be familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your area.