A lease is a written agreement that allows you to rent a property for a set period of time. This usually lasts for a year. Once the lease is up, the tenant can either choose to move out or renew the agreement in order to keep living at the said property.
However, it can happen that you need to end the lease before the term is up. This could be due to a variety of reasons, be it relocation for a new job, a tense roommate situation, and other unforeseen circumstances. While some landlords are understanding and let the tenant walk away without any hassle, others are not so kind.
What do you do in such a situation? At Zumbly, we expertly help you through the house hunting process by providing you with property data and useful tools. Let’s take a look at what a lease entails, the penalties you might have to face, and how to get out of it without a penalty.
How Does a Lease Work?
A lease is a legally binding contract that states the rules that a landlord and a tenant have agreed upon. It states how long you will be renting the unit (which could be for six months or a year or two years and so on), and how much rent you will be paying per month. A lease can also mention the date by which a tenant is required to pay the monthly rent.
A few other points a lease can include are:
- First-and-last-months’ rent requirement
- Pet rules
- Security deposits
- Repairs and maintenance guidelines
- Utilities guidelines
- And so on.
Landlords may include guidelines to other fine details, like rules for guests staying over, access to the parking lot, pool privileges, and more..
A lease serves as a contract to assert both the landlord and the tenant’s rights. A landlord gets to protect their property, and the tenant receives legal safety knowing they have a roof over their head and that it’s all written in the documents.
The lease you sign for the apartment you’re renting is particularly important not only because it states your responsibilities and your landlord’s responsibilities, but because it outlines the financial specifications. It tells you important details about rent payment and the security deposit.
The security deposit is usually returned to the tenant once the lease gets over. However, if the tenant damages or tampers with the apartment, specific deductions could be applied to the total amount of the security deposit.
Before you sign a lease, make sure it’s reasonable. For example, the curfew hour can’t be something as early as 5 pm, or you should not have to fix damages that weren’t caused by you, and so on. Read the agreement carefully before signing it. If you have doubts about certain conditions, clear them out with your landlord before finalizing the deal. Reading the lease details closely minimizes your chances of having to get out of a lease.
What are the Penalties for Breaking a Lease?
Breaking any legal contract comes with consequences. In the case of a lease, these consequences are mostly financial. It could extend to a legal scenario, too, and perhaps even affect your future as a renter.
If your landlord is understanding, the maximum you will have to do is stay or continue paying rent until they find a tenant. You can also do your bit by putting up the listing and helping them find a new person to rent out the apartment. However, if that doesn’t work, here are the penalties you might have to face for breaking the lease.
Paying a Fee
- Breaking a lease usually equates to having to pay a hefty fee. Read up your contract to see if it mentions anything about lease fines. If it does, see how much they are, and have a conversation with your landlord accordingly.
At times the fee you have to pay could be the rent of a month or two. Landlords can also ask you to pay the rent for the remaining term of your lease, regardless of whether you’re staying or not. You might not even get the security deposit back, if the contract states so.
Facing Legal Action
- If you really need to move out and your landlord refuses to come to a compromise, then you probably have to take the legal road. Although getting involved in a lawsuit for an early lease termination is not too common, it could come to that if your landlord is particularly stringent.
If you’re on good terms with your landlord, you might be able to avoid legal consequences. If they ask you for a fee, just pay up. Or pay them for the term that was agreed on, because it’s much better than winding up with additional legal fees.
Finding a New Home
- One of the consequences of ending a lease before its due date is having trouble finding a new apartment. Landlords want tenants they can trust, and having a poor case history with landlords won’t look good on your record.
Landlords often contact the owners of the previous place you were staying at in order to get some references, and if they hear that you either didn’t follow the rules or caused a hassle, they might not be willing to rent out their place to you.
This is why it’s better to be honest with your potential landlord from the beginning. Give them valid reasons as to why you had to end the lease, and if they’re practical, they will understand your reasons and give you the benefit of the doubt.
How to Get Out of a Lease Without Penalty
Laws related to landlords and tenants vary from one place to another. It’s better to check with a state attorney general to know how things can be sorted out. There are certain scenarios under which you can get out of a lease without having to pay a penalty for it. Those situations are as follows:
- Being Called to Active-Duty Military Service
Active-duty uniformed service members are allowed to break housing leases without penalty, as per the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), under certain conditions. The protection extends to National Guard members and reservists called to active duty, active-duty Coast Guard members serving in support of regular armed forces branches, and active-duty members of all regular armed forces branches.
If you need to break your lease before entering active-duty status, you need to provide a copy of your military orders about 30 days before breaking the lease. In order to break it after entering active-duty status, your landlord needs to receive a copy of deployment or permanent change of station orders lasting at least 90 consecutive days.
- Your Unit Suffering Serious Damage
State laws allow renters to break their lease early if their unit suffers damage and becomes uninhabitable due to situations that are beyond their control. This includes your unit being hit by a natural disaster, the outbreak of a disease, or the report of criminal activities taking place in your building or neighborhood.
- Facing Domestic Violence
If you’re facing domestic violence, you will be allowed to get out of a lease. Although the rules vary from state to state, you will generally be able to get out without facing any penalty if you provide a notice period of 30 days. A situation as extreme as domestic violence shouldn’t force you to stay in a place that’s causing you harm. Therefore, talk to your landlord about the situation and leave as soon as you can.
- A Health Crisis
If you or one of the people living with you are faced with a physical or mental health crisis, you will be permitted to leave without penalty. It usually requires the documents from a physician and a 30-day notice, and you will be allowed to leave.
- Unfulfilled Landlord Duties
Constructive eviction is a term that refers to the ability of a tenant to leave before his/her lease ends if their landlord isn’t performing the duties related to maintaining the peace of the housing in question. In order to qualify for constructive eviction, certain rules must be met.
It’s not enough to complain about your landlord not fixing a broken fridge. However, if it’s related to a problem that’s persistent and severe, it will be considered. For example, if your landlord fails or refuses to fix the broken hot water system, that’s something you can complain about.
Merely complaining won’t do. You also have to provide evidence of when the problem started and how it has been escalating. Once sufficient data is provided, you’ll be able to walk out without paying any penalty.
When you’re buying a new property, it’s a good idea to take a good look at the lease agreement so you can avoid problems later down the line. Whether you’re trying to get out of a lease and looking for your next place, or you’re looking for a property in which to invest, Zumbly provides useful property scores and more. With our tools, you can make sure a property is a good investment for your portfolio or for your future.