How to Break Lease Agreements for Rental Houses

by Lainie Petersen
Offering to help find a new tenant is a good negotiating strategy.

Leases are contracts, so you can't just break a lease if you want or need to move from your rental home. This is true even if you need to move for a job or to manage a family emergency. If you don't have legal grounds to break the lease, such as proof that your landlord won't make needed repairs, you'll have to persuade your landlord or property manager to let you out of the lease early.

If You Have Legal Grounds to Break the Lease

Determine whether you have grounds to break your lease. Read your lease to see if it offers a termination clause. If it doesn't, research the law in your area. Many states allow you to break your lease if your landlord refuses to make repairs or repeatedly enters your home without giving advance notice. Federal law allows military service members and their families to break a lease if the service member is relocated or deployed. Some states allow stalking and domestic violence victims to break a lease if doing so is necessary to protect the victim's safety. Other grounds for breaking a lease may include a landlord who won't take action against disruptive neighbors or if you need to move into a nursing home due to an illness or disability.

Begin the notification process. If your lease offers a termination clause, follow the instructions for notifying your landlord or property manager about your decision to leave. You may need to send your landlord or property manager a written notice or even go to court to terminate your tenancy, depending on your state's laws. Talk to a lawyer if you have any concerns about how to proceed.

Ask your landlord or property manager for a written acknowledgement of your lease termination. You may need this if the landlord later claims that you broke the lease without permission and either tries to sue you or provides negative information to a tenant screening service.

Move out. Provide your landlord or property manager with your new address so he can send you your security deposit or statement of damages.

If You Don't Have Legal Grounds to Terminate Your Lease

Develop a negotiation strategy. Since you have no legal right to terminate the lease, be prepared to compensate the landlord either financially or by working to find a new tenant. If you can find a new tenant to take over your lease before approaching your landlord, do so. Otherwise, come up with a plan for finding a new tenant, such as offering to pay for a "for rent" ad and showing the place to possible tenants.

Contact your landlord or property management company by phone or arrange for an in-person meeting. Explain that you would like to break the lease and ask if something can be worked out. If you are able to come to an agreement, get it in writing.

Comply with the terms of your agreement with the landlord or property manager and move out from your rental home.

About the Author

Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.

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