Breaking the Lease?
Have you or one of your friends ever been in this situation? You signed a 12-month lease 3 months ago. All of a sudden, your roommate bails or you’re forced to relocate. Can you break your lease without repercussions? The short answer is – no. However, there are ways to mitigate the damage. First, let’s take a general look what you or the landlord can / cannot do. NOTE, however, that we at RentHop.com are not lawyers, nor are we giving legal advice. Be sure to do your own due diligence or contact a legal representative with any questions. In general, though, a lease cannot be broken by either landlord or renter (unless expressly written into the lease).
The landlord’s rights:
- The renter cannot break the lease unless the landlord agrees. An interesting tidbit goes with this. If the renter happens to die, their inheritors need to assume the lease.
- In general, you cannot assign a lease to another person. In an assignment, the new tenant assumes most (if not all) of the responsibilities of the original tenant. Assignments differ from sublets. In a sublet, the original tenant is still liable to the landlord.
- If the renter “breaks” the lease by abandoning the property, the landlord can rent the property out again or take possession of the contents.
- If the renter refuses to pay, the landlord can take the renter to court.
- For a building with > 4 units, a landlord can reject a sublet with reasonable grounds. However, a landlord cannot reject a sublet on unreasonable grounds (for example, because of racial discrimination).
The renter’s rights:
- Under most circumstances, the tenant can sublet his apartment (as long as he is liable for the lease if the sublessee defaults).
- The landlord cannot break the lease or change the rent for the duration of the lease.
- If the property changes hands, the new property owner needs to honor the lease.
- If a renter abandons a property and the landlord manages to find a new tenant. The landlord cannot collect rent from both tenants.
Given these nuggets of information, being locked into a lease may seem unfair. But the lease is binding on both sides. You wouldn’t want the landlord to kick your out on a whim right? Nor would you want to be out on the street because a property changed hands. So what can you do if you need to move out before your lease ends?
I’m in one of these situations – what can I do?
- Read your lease and rider very closely to see if you are given any additional rights.
- Speak with the landlord!
- Some landlords are friendlier than others and may be willing to let you break the lease. For example, rents may have risen dramatically, and the landlord will benefit if he can find a renter quickly. In the depths of the recession in 2008, some landlords even had special clauses that let tenants break their leases should they lose their jobs.
- Otherwise, if you can find a new tenant, the landlord might be willing to let you assign the lease (provided – of course – that the rents you’re paying are the same).
- In general, unless you’re subletting from a co-op, you can sublet the apartment.
- Some landlords may be willing to help you find a new tenant. In this case though, you’re liable for the lease if they don’t find one (risky option).
How do I sublet my apartment?
The time of year, the remaining term of the lease, and the market rent vs the lease rent will affect your ability to sublet your apartment. Finding a tenant in the winter will be more difficult than during the prime June/July/August months. In addition, if the market rent is lower than your contract rent, you may lose money if you choose to rent out the apartment below your contract rent (but this is still way better than letting your unit sit idle). To get a good sense of where you want to price your apartment, check out the listings on RentHop.com for your location/size. To advertise your listing, definitely post on RentHop as well as craigslist.
For further reading, take a look at the tenant’s rights guide on the Housing and Urban Development site.