How To Break Your Lease

How To Break Your Lease

Almost 40 million plus renters are dealing with late payments and evictions.  Millions have frustrating housing situations and have moved to safer areas but are still paying rent on places that they don’t live in and aren’t using.

From New York to San Francisco, big cities to rural areas, the flight has been historic.  Hundreds of thousands of people sheltered down in March to only find they were living in cramped places and wanted more room. 

Many employees were allowed to work from home and decided that they were paying too much for  their urban apartment rents and mortgages, and could get more space in the suburbs or in nearby cities for much less. 

They could achieve a higher quality of life by moving. Also,  because of the frightening pandemic, many have decided they want to live with family or friends.

Nonetheless, the urban exodus is on.  Everyday, thousands of people (not just you) are just breaking leases on their old places and walking.

Others are confused and don’t know how to break their lease.  

 

How to Break Your Lease

Before breaking your lease you should give your landlord a call and tell them about your current financial situation.  If your landlord rents multiple units and has many tenants they are probably already having these discussions and may have a financial hardship plan for you.

Most landlords are willing to negotiate a lower monthly payment for a specific time period since they’ll have problems replacing you.  Not to mention many of the courts are still closed, so they can’t sue you.

If you can’t work anything out, then know that breaking a lease is typically difficult and very expensive.

 

Unless you have cause for termination, it’s a binding agreement.  Even if you’ve moved out and stopped paying rent.  Landlords are likely to come after you eventually for the missing rent, even if you’ve moved to another state.  They’ll file locally and you’ll get served and have to return to the local court.

If your landlord is not about to give up, then check what your rental agreement says about breaking your lease.  Many require a payment penalty, sometimes as much as two months worth of rent.  And you’ll need to give proper notice.  Which varies by lease but is typically between 30-60 days.

Also be sure to research the tenant laws in your state to see what protections you may have, if any.

The lease also may have a “force majeure” clause which could get you out of your lease if there’s a disaster clause.  While it’s not clear that this applies in a Covid world, many leases stipulate that a pandemic is NOT considered a “force majeure” disaster, and won’t get you out of the contract.

While you’re looking at your lease, check the lease language to see if you can sublet to a new tenant.

So if you’re able to reduce your rent, and even offer to pay some money to lower it even further, it could help you sublet it, and get you off the hook.  The landlord will have to approve the new tenant, but cannot “unreasonably refuse” to a sublet.

Chances are your landlord will be flexible now if you talk to them and work it out to prevent any problems with bringing in the new tenant.

If everything fails, and you’re stuck paying a fee, check to see if your renters insurance covers any disaster-related costs of breaking a lease. Many renter’s policies offer disaster coverage.

 

Also, be sure to consult a lawyer before terminating your lease. They may be able to get better terms than you can.  They don’t want to take on any additional legal fees, so it may be intimidating to them to bring in an attorney.  Additionally they may be able to pause your rent, allowing you time to give notice and find a new tenant.  If you’re lucky they may be able to get you out of your lease entirely.

Be sure to get any agreement you make with the landlord in writing.  If it’s not in writing a verbal agreement won’t stand up in court.

Try to negotiate but be flexible.  The more flexible you are the better chance you have in succeeding.