Breaking the Lease

A tenant can violate or break a lease intentionally or unintentionally. Lease agreements typically include default provisions that list actions by the tenant that violate the lease and allow the landlord to terminate the lease before it ends. Of course, by paying the rent late or failing to pay it entirely, the tenant is in default and has violated the lease agreement. However, the tenant also defaults if she:

  • violates criminal laws, whether any arrest or conviction occurs
  • gives false information on the rental application
  • possesses, manufactures or delivers a controlled substance, marijuana, drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • makes a false complaint concerning the habitability of the premises to a government agency

Purchasing a home does not permit a tenant to break a lease, unless the lease specifically permits it. Additionally, other common reasons that do not allow a tenant to break the lease include:

  • marriage
  • separation
  • divorce
  • reconciliation
  • leaving or withdrawing from school voluntarily or involuntarily
  • voluntary or involuntary job transfer
  • loss of roommate or cotenant
  • loss of employment
  • bad health
  • criminal activity in and around the area

TIP: If you are in the military or enlist while you are leasing and are ordered to active duty or to relocate, you may lawfully terminate your lease before it ends. You must give the landlord notice, preferably 30 days in advance, if you are able. You will not be responsible for the rent due on the months left on the lease after you move out.

Do I have pay to for the months left on the lease if I break it?

Yes. You are responsible for paying the rent for every month left on the lease. Additionally, your lease agreement may allow the landlord to "accelerate the rental payments" or call them all due at once. For example, if you break the lease and leave with 3 months left on a $500 month apartment, the landlord can demand $1,500 ($500 x 3 months).

TIP: Most laws require landlords to "mitigate" damages or attempt to rent out the apartment that was vacated early. In the example above, if someone moved in 30 days after the tenant left, the tenant must pay for that month only, or $500.

Do I lose my security deposit if I move out early?

Probably. Not only do security deposits ensure that the tenant will keep the premises maintained, they also act as a deterrent to breaking a lease. Even if the landlord does not go to the trouble to sue you for the remaining rent owed under the lease, he is still somewhat compensated by keeping your security deposit.

TIP: You still owe rent for the months left on the lease, even if you forfeited you security deposit. Because the lease is a contract, most laws give the landlord 2 years to sue for the remaining rent.

I had to break my lease, but I found a replacement tenant to move in the day after I moved out. Can the landlord still keep my security deposit?

No, assuming that the premises were left in good condition. If the lease allows the landlord to keep the security deposit as a penalty for breaking the lease, but you find a replacement, he must return the security deposit. However, the landlord has to approve the replacement tenant, and if he does not, he keeps the security deposit.

I broke my lease because I had to move. The landlord is keeping $500 of my $1,000 security deposit for the cost of finding a replacement tenant, although the apartment was left in perfect condition. Can he keep half my security deposit?

Yes. The landlord is entitled to deduct the cost of his actual expenses in finding a tenant to take your place and occupy the vacant apartment. If the rental agency he used charged $500 to find a new tenant, then he has a right to deduct that amount (or whatever the amount is) from your security deposit when it is refunded to you.

TIP: The cost to the landlord for having to find another tenant is sometimes called a "reletting fee" in the lease agreement.

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