Job loss can be financially devastating. Keeping up with your rent can become difficult, if not impossible. Although it's common for people to change living arrangements when they lose work, leases with clauses to accommodate this situation are rare. Although landlord-tenant law varies by city, county and state, even jurisdictions that favor renters' rights don't usually make job loss a condition that allows a renter to terminate a lease without penalties. However, leases can always be terminated at a price.
Review your lease carefully. Most leases have clauses for terminating a lease early. You need to find the amount of notice required to break the lease. Additionally, you may save on penalties if you can continue to occupy and pay for your domicile until the landlord re-rents it. Of course, landlords have to make a good faith effort to do so. Make it clear to your landlord that you lost your job and won't be able to continue rent payments beyond a certain date. This gives the landlord incentive to find a new tenant quickly.
Unless you have a month-to-month lease, you'll probably lose some money by terminating your lease. Usually, you'll lose your security deposit. Some leases allow you to leave if you forfeit your deposit and and already paid last month's rent. Others demand a specific penalty fee in addition to these monies. In the worst case, your lease might require you to pay out the remainder of the lease term. However, leases -- and landlord-tenant regulations -- usually allow for a tenant to be released from this obligation if the premises are re-rented. If your jurisdiction doesn't offer this protection and your lease doesn't have an out for re-rental, you may be forced to find a subletting tenant yourself to avoid paying several months of rent.
Not all landlords are personable or understanding. Many nice apartments and rental properties are owned by property management companies and corporations. However, it never hurts to appeal to people's human sympathy and kindness. Let your landlord or manager know about your situation and see if you can work something out. In the end, most landlords don't want to try to collect or go to court chasing a tenant who can't pay. Additionally, people can be surprisingly nice. Your landlord or manager may understand the pains of hard times and work with you on a favorable solution.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with figuring out your lease, or the terms seem outrageously unfair or your landlord is being difficult, get help. Check with your city or county landlord-tenants dispute office or housing department for information on your rights. Have an attorney or a landlord-tenant dispute counselor review your lease and explain it to you. Additionally, some nonprofit organizations offer assistance to people with landlord-tenant problems or who need help during financially difficult times. Take advantage of community resources.
Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.