Leases are legal contracts, so you can't easily walk away from one and break its terms without some sort of repercussions. Depending on your circumstances, however, you may have some options if you really need to or want to get out of your rental. Missouri law offers some standard rules for breaking leases, and in at least one case, the federal government might help you as well.
Like any other contract, a lease can be broken by consent of the parties. If you've suffered a job loss or some other event that makes it impossible for you to manage your rent any longer, your landlord might agree to let you move out. The alternative would mean going through the time and expense of evicting you if you don't pay your rent, so allowing you to break your lease might seem like the better option. Missouri law requires that you get the agreement in writing, and both you and your landlord must sign it.
If you want to move out for personal reasons, such as that you've found a place you like better or you and your significant other have decided to set up house together, your landlord might be less gracious about allowing you to break your lease. All may not be lost, however, if you can find someone to rent your premises in your place. This is called subletting, and Missouri requires that you get your landlord's permission first. He might be willing to give it if you've got a responsible new tenant lined up, ready to move in as soon as you vacate so there's no lapse in rent. If you simply leave without arranging for another tenant, your landlord can sue you, but this takes time and money just as eviction does. Your landlord's permission for you to sublet must be in writing, and if your new tenant doesn't pay the rent, you're still on the hook for it under the terms of your lease. You're not actually breaking the lease – you're just not living in the rental unit any longer while someone else pays the rent for you.
Special Rules for Military
If you're a member of the armed forces and you're called to active duty after you sign a lease, you have the right to terminate it. This is a federal law, so it applies in every state, including Missouri. Your deployment or change of station must be for 90 days or more, and you must give your landlord written notice along with a copy of your orders. After you do so, you're still responsible for making your next rent payment, but your lease terminates 30 days after your next payment is due. For example, if you give notice on December 15, you must pay rent on January 1, and your lease terminates on January 31.
You have one other option in Missouri, but it's dependent on your landlord's actions. If he fails to meet his responsibilities under the law or the terms of your lease, you're free to move on. This might be the case if he's not maintaining the unit in livable condition, or if he's entering your apartment at will, without notice and without your consent. You can notify him in writing that unless he remedies the situation, you're going to leave. You then have to wait a reasonable amount of time for him to do so. If repairs aren't made or if he continues with his unacceptable behavior, you can vacate the dwelling. If the issue is repairs, you might want to protect yourself by taking photographs or otherwise documenting the situation, and it wouldn’t hurt to let him know that you've done so.
- Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: You and Your Landlord (PDF)
- J. Russell Ford, Attorney at Law: Landlord Tenant Law
- Missouri Attorney General: Missouri's Landlord-Tenant Law (PDF)
- Military.com: SCRA Lease Termination Provisions
- Georgia Consumer Protection Division. "If I Terminate My Lease Early, Can My Landlord Keep My Security Deposit and Charge Me a Fee?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Oregon State Bar. "Fees and Deposits." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Wisconsin State Legislature. "704.29 Recovery of Rent and Damages by Landlord; Mitigation." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Realtor.com®. "Beyond the Security Deposit: When Can Your Landlord Sue You for Property Damage?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- The Judicial Branch of California. "Security Deposits." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Updater. "Breaking a Lease: Everything to Know." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. "Lease Information Bulletin," Page 3. Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Could Late Rent Payments or Problems With a Landlord Be in My Credit Report?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Experian. "Does Breaking a Lease Affect Your Credit?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Experian. "How Long Does It Take for Information to Come Off Your Credit Reports?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. "Lease Information Bulletin," Page 2. Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Michigan Department of Attorney General. "Other Legal Protections and Rights Provided By State And Federal Law." Accessed Apr. 23, 2020.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.