5 ways to break a lease

Amy on
cutting lease agreement

Let’s say life’s thrown you a curve ball -- be it a great one (a proposal or promotion) or a not-so-great one (an illness, layoff or breakup) -- and you need to leave your current apartment, but you’re not sure what your options are. You’re not alone; in fact, most folks don’t read every line of fine print in their rental agreements even though we all know we should. That’s why we’ve decided to shed a little light on the choices that may be available to you in the event you need to split, and fast.

At Moveline, we’ve worked with a variety of people moving for a wide array of reasons, and suffice it to say, we’ve run into the question of how to break a lease more than a few times. So, we’ve put together a helpful list of 5 tactics you can take to get out of your rental contract legally and with as little hassle as possible.

1. Find a termination clause

The first thing to do when you think you may need to break a lease is look for any termination clauses in your lease contract. While most landlords and property managers don’t go over these with any level of detail, it’s probable that termination language is included somewhere on the document. Depending on your reason for vacating, you might be able to get off scot-free with the appropriate amount of notice, given the fact that you lost a job, got transferred at work, had a medical issue or some other circumstance that’s clearly outlined in the clause. If so, be up front with your leasing office and put it in writing. A contract’s a contract, and you should be able to move without consequence.

2. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

If there’s not a termination clause, or if your particular situation just isn’t covered by one, it’s possible you can simply talk your way out of your lease. While the odds are slim that you won’t lose your security deposit at best (and perhaps quite a bit more in the worst case scenario), it couldn’t hurt to ask. If the property is in such high demand that there’s a wait list (let’s say you’ve got a rent-controlled unit in a desirable neighborhood in New York City, for example), you just may be in luck with a bit of politeness and some finely-tuned negotiating skills. If not, however, you may still have other options.

3. Find someone to sublet

Subleasing agreements are like snowflakes: it seems no two are truly alike. Check with your leasing office to see if they’ll allow you to sublet in the first place; if not, you’re barking up the wrong tree, but if so, you may be a Craigslist ad away from packing up your stuff. Be sure to review the terms of the subletting clause carefully to see what responsibilities you’ll still have once you’ve moved out and a new renter has moved in under your old contract.

4. Lose the security deposit

If there’s no termination clause that speaks to your circumstances, subletting your place isn’t an option, and no amount of sweet-talking is going to get you out of your lease without penalty, you may still have a bit of negotiating power if you’re willing to spread your remaining fees out over a payment plan. If, say, you’re terminating your lease two months early and genuinely can’t continue to pay the same rent at the same rate once you’ve gone, it’s possible you may be able to split it up into four payments, perhaps through a direct debit arrangement to give the landlord peace of mind that he or she isn’t being taken for a ride. And if you’re lucky, you can get out of your remaining payments altogether and simply lose your entire security deposit (plus cleaning and renovation fees if you leave the place a mess).

5. Take it on the chin

If all else fails, consider using credit cards or whatever means necessary (again: legally, of course!) to pay off your remaining balance once you’ve vacated the space. Simply refusing to pay will set into motion an unpleasant series of events, including stern, intimidating calls and letters from debt collectors -- not to mention a considerable blow to your credit score and the potential difficulty of getting approved for a future lease elsewhere. By all means, do what you can to pay your fees in full as quickly as possible and sustain a minimal amount of damage to your financial future.

Regardless of how you’re moving or where, let Moveline help reduce the headache. At no charge to you, we’ll assign you a Move Captain to help you inventory your stuff and get fair, accurate quotes from reputable, licensed movers. Then, we’ll oversee your move every step of the way to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible. So don’t go it alone. Let Moveline help. Start planning your move with us by visiting our homepage and learning more about what we do.