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How to break a lease on an apartment

Published On: Jul 22 2013 12:53:21 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 24 2013 07:58:05 AM CDT
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By Law Offices of Reese, Samley, Wagenseller, Mecum, and Longer

Renting an apartment is not something you should enter lightly. The lease you sign with your landlord is a legally binding contract and cannot be easily broken. In fact, breaking your contract could end up causing you serious legal problems. You could end up in a lawsuit, it could hurt your credit, and it could also cause difficulties for you when applying for apartments in the future. Your lease obligates you to pay rent for the entire length of your contract, and if broken early, you still are legally required to pay the remainder of rent due to your landlord.

There are some circumstances that allow you to break your lease without a penalty or with a minimal penalty:

-- If you are called to active military duty, federal law allows you to break your lease. Many state laws also allow you to break your lease without penalty if you are required to relocate for military reasons.

-- You can also break your lease if your apartment is significantly damaged by natural disasters or crime. This damage cannot be your fault, so don't purposely destroy your apartment.

-- You may also be able to get out of your lease if your landlord is negligent -- if he does not repair or maintain the property -- or if he invades your privacy.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get out of your lease, there are some options for you:

-- Check your lease for an early termination clause. Many times this is not included in your lease, so it's always good to negotiate these term BEFORE signing any lease. If there is a clause, it allows tenants to break the lease for family, medical and job issues.

-- Talk to your landlord. If he's a nice guy, and there's high demand for rental space in your area, he might not mind. He might let you out penalty-free.

-- If your landlord is hesitant, you can offer to pay for a few months of rent after you leave, or absorb the costs of looking for a replacement. You can also offer to pay for the costs of cleaning and painting the apartment after you move out. These are headaches for landlords, and it might help your case.

-- You can also offer to find a sub-letter for the remainder of your lease. Make sure you check your lease agreement and talk to your landlord, because many times leases do not allow this. The sub-letter will write you a check, and you will continue to write the check to your landlord.

If none of those are an option, you can also pay the lease balance off over time. If you have $3,000 remaining, perhaps you can negotiate a payment plan over six months. It's important to remember that your landlord has an obligation to re-rent the place after you move out. They cannot leave the place vacant and then sue you for the remainder of your rent at the time that you lease would have ended. The law requires them to take reasonable steps to find a new renter. Remember that reasonable does not mean extraordinary. They are allowed to be picky, but you are welcome to help find an acceptable replacement renter.

If your landlord does nothing, he cannot require back payments of rent from you. It's standard to lose your security deposit or a month's rent, but the law protects you from his negligence. Make sure you check with your particular state on what its laws require.

If you have a particularly complicated situation or difficult landlord, it may be best to consult with an attorney who has experience in landlord-tenant relationships.

The members of the Law Offices of Reese, Samley, Wagenseller, Mecum, and Longer practice in Lancaster, Pa., and collectively have 160 years of experience between them. One of their many areas of practice is Landlord-Tenant Relationships.

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