For any number of reasons, you may want to move out of your house or apartment before the lease is up. But because a lease is a legal agreement that obligates you to pay rent for the duration, you’re on the hook for each month’s rent. So what can you do to prevent a lawsuit? If you’re willing to invest some time and a little effort, you might be able to legally get out of your lease. Here are some ways:
- Ask. Yes, it may only take a polite request to get out of your lease early. If you live in a popular area where living space is always in high demand, your landlord may be fine with ending your lease prematurely. It might even be an opportunity for him or her to raise the rent.
- The landlord must attempt to re-rent. In most states, a landlord is required by law to make a reasonable effort to find another tenant. Rent from the new tenant will be credited toward your lease until the original end date. This obligation of the landlord to re-rent is legally referred to as the landlord’s “duty to mitigate damages.” Verify that this law applies in your state and be aware that it comes with some responsibilities for the original tenant as well including:a. You may be held financially responsible for paying the landlord’s costs for advertising the unit’s availability, and for costs he or she incurs to show it.
b. The landlord is only required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent, and is not required to reduce the rent, or accept the first applicant, or anyone at all. Increase the likelihood of a good match by referring potential renters with good credit and references.
- Prove the landlord did not attempt to re-rent. Even in states where it applies, not all landlords are aware of their obligation to attempt re-renting. Or if they do, they don’t follow the law. It’s not uncommon for a landlord to hold onto the security deposit and the last month’s rent, as well as send the lease-breaker a threatening letter demanding the remaining months of rent in full. Even if you make your case to a judge that the landlord didn’t perform his or her “duty to mitigate damages,” you may still lose the security deposit or a month’s rent. If you get such a letter from the landlord, consider doing the following:a. Send the landlord a polite and factual letter that quotes your state’s law about the duty to mitigate.
b. If the letter isn’t effective, you may end up in court. If the landlord retained your deposit and it’s a significant amount of money, you will want to recover it through litigation. Alternately, the landlord may take you to court to pay the remaining months of rent.
c. In preparing for court, collect proof that he or she didn’t fulfill the duty to re-rent. To do this:
d. Verify if any ads were placed in local papers or online classifieds.
e. Ask your former neighbors if and how many times the landlord showed your apartment. Also, ask if the landlord rented out apartments similar to yours, instead of showing yours?
f. Did the landlord in fact rent out your unit, but is lying about it in order to collect from the new renter as well you?
g. You may have a legal reason to break your lease. Depending on your state’s laws, there are several reasons that might qualify as what’s legally termed a “constructive eviction.”
- Unlivable conditions. If a landlord fails to maintain your living unit or building so that it’s reasonably livable. Specific requirements to qualify as unlivable vary by state.
- When the landlord repeatedly violates your ability to enjoy living there. For example, he or she constantly violated your privacy rights.
- You entered military service and are posted to another location. If you give the landlord notice that you must break the lease as a result, you cannot legally be forced to pay the remaining months of rent.
- You have to relocate because of a job.
- A family member’s health forces you to relocate in order to care for him or her.
For more information about lease obligations and to find out if you can legally break your lease, contact a local attorney today.