A written lease or rental agreement is a binding contract between you and your landlord. While you may have valid reasons for wanting to get out of your lease (for example, you're moving because of a job, marriage or divorce, or the apartment is severely damaged), breaking a lease is still a breach of contract, so you could be penalized.

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Conditions with high chances you'll have to pay a penalty for breaking a lease:

  • Moving for a job
  • Buying a new house or apartment
  • Moving because of a marriage or divorce

These are the most common reasons for breaking a lease, and unfortunately are not legally valid reasons for avoiding a penalty. However, because many states require landlords to 'mitigate damages' by making reasonable efforts to re-rent the apartment, the more notice you give your landlord of your intent to move, the greater your chances will be of limiting or even avoiding a penalty. You can also help your landlord by finding a replacement tenant yourself.

Remember, if you have a fixed lease (usually for a year), you're usually obligated to pay rent for the entire year. This means if your landlord can't find a replacement tenant immediately, or loses rent because of your move, you'll probably have to pay the difference.

Conditions where you might have to pay a penalty for breaking a lease:

If your landlord hasn't lived up to his or her obligations (ex: neglected maintenance or faulty repairs, or invasion of privacy), you may have just cause for breaking a lease. Read over your Lease Agreement to verify exactly what your landlord's responsibilities are. Write a Complaint to Landlord letter, and keep a copy, so if he or she doesn't take any action, you have documentation to back up your arguments in court. You need to keep good records of the circumstances, so that you can fight a penalty in court.

Conditions where you won't have to pay a penalty for breaking a lease:

There are a few circumstances where you would not be required to pay a penalty for breaking a lease:

  • The apartment is uninhabitable because of severe damage. This applies only so long as the damage was not caused by you (ex: flood, crime, earthquake, accidental fire).
  • You've been called to active duty in the military. If you signed the lease before being called up, the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act lets you cancel your lease without penalty. You may also be able to break your lease if you're being relocated under military orders.
  • You become very sick or seriously injured. In some states, serious illness or injury, or the need to move to an assisted living facility because of illness/injury, is condition enough to let you break your lease. Check with your state's laws to see what your rights are.

You can find and create legal documents quickly and easily with Rocket Lawyer's online interviews. You can also use Rocket Lawyer to Find a Lawyerto help you with your landlord-tenant issues.

Get started Visit our Tenant Center Get tenant documents and ask a lawyer your questions.

Get started Visit our Tenant Center Get tenant documents and ask a lawyer your questions.