There aren’t many rentals out there that don’t require you to sign a lease before moving in. This legally binding contract spells out the monthly rental amount, and the number of months you agree to live there. In an ideal world, signing such a document isn’t an issue, but sometimes life hands you a curveball, and you may face events that make it impossible to continue your lease. For example, you might lose your job, suffer a long-term illness, or go through a divorce. When this happens, breaking a lease can be costly.
Joseph Tobener, an experienced tenant rights attorney in the Bay Area points out, “Most landlords will first and foremost try to hold the renter liable for the remainder of the lease.” They may even sue the tenant to recoup their money. However, using a few careful strategies can help you navigate getting out of an apartment lease with minimal cost or damage to your credit.
Read Your Lease Agreement
Wondering how to get out of an apartment lease? The answer might be right in your paperwork. Some leases include an early termination clause, which you may or may not be aware of when you sign. This statement allows you to break your lease if your reasons for moving include those stated in the clause. Common reasons included in early termination clauses are family or personal medical problems, loss of job, job transfer, or divorce.
Your lease may not include those details. Instead, it may include an attorney fee provision, as Tobener points out. This provision allows your landlord to hold you liable for their attorney fees if they sue you for breach of contract.
Evaluate Your Landlord
Has your landlord held up his or her part of the lease agreement? If not, the landlord could be in breach of contract, which changes the game when breaking an apartment lease. If your landlord fails to keep your rental in good condition, then you can break your lease without suffering penalties. This is where taking pictures and keeping good records comes in handy, especially if you end up having to go to court.
At his firm, Tobener Ravenscroft LLC, Tobener gets more than 200 calls every week from tenants who need to break their leases. He explains, “The first thing we ask is why. If the landlord is at fault, then the tenant can sue. Even if the tenant is the one responsible for the breach, if the landlord is also in breach, the tenant can countersue to offset the damages they might be liable for.”
Meet With Your Landlord
If you have a sympathetic landlord, you might be able to appeal to his or her softer side to avoid penalties. Ideally, you should speak to your landlord as soon as you know that you’re going to need to break the lease. This gives your landlord as much time as possible to think about options, and it gives you more time to know exactly where you stand. If the rental market in the area is hot, then your landlord could potentially forgive you and even move on to rent the apartment at a higher rate.
Arrange a Replacement Tenant
In most cases, landlords prefer screening their tenants, so you most likely won’t be able to just sublet your apartment to anyone. However, if you know of someone who would be willing to take over the lease, you could give their information to your landlord, who could then do the normal background and credit checks. By supplying a new qualified tenant, you can smooth over the disturbance caused by your departure.
Know Your Rights
Once your landlord finds the next tenant to take over for you, then you could be off the hook for the time left on the lease. For example, if you’re breaking your lease six months early, but your landlord re-rents it after two months, you should only be liable for the two months it was vacant.
Additionally, as Tobener points out, “Your landlord has a duty to mitigate damages by re-renting as soon as possible.” He explains that if the landlord fails to try finding a new tenant, then you could potentially be off the hook altogether. If you see that your apartment isn’t listed after providing notice, Tobener recommends sending your landlord an email noting that or even listing it yourself and forwarding the responses to your landlord to prove that there’s interest in the property.
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