Once you have signed a lease agreement to rent a house or apartment, you are legally bound by the terms of the agreement. In particular, you are legally required to pay rent for the term specified in the lease agreement at the agreed upon rate. If you need to break the lease agreement for any reason, you must give the landlord notice of your intention to do so. You may still be liable for damages as a result of the breach; however, once you give notice, your landlord has a legal obligation to mitigate those damages.
Landlord-tenant laws are created by the individual states. Because landlord-tenant law falls within the jurisdiction of state courts, there are no uniform laws that apply in all states. There are, however, common procedures and some similarities among the states with regard to how they treat lease agreements, as well as when to notify a landlord when you intend to break an agreement.
When to Give Notice
Often, the terms of the lease agreement itself will dictate how much notice you are required to give when you terminate a lease early. Check the lease agreement to see if there is a section entitled "early termination," "notice of termination" or something similar. If the lease does not specify how much notice is required, your state laws will determine a default notice period. As a general rule, you must give at least one rental period's worth of notice. For example, if your rental period is one month, meaning you pay your rent once a month, then you must provide notice at least one month ahead of time.
How to Give Notice
As with all situations that may have legal consequences, you should provide notice in writing to your landlord. In addition, you should mail the notice in plenty of time via certified or registered mail to have proof of when the notice was delivered to your landlord.
In most states, simply providing notice of your intention to break a lease does not eliminate your obligation to pay damages caused by your early termination of the lease. Providing notice does, however, generally put the landlord on notice to mitigate damages. Mitigation of damages is simply a legal term that means the landlord must do everything possible to limit the monetary damages caused by your early termination. Frequently, this means re-renting the property as soon as possible. If your lease agreement was for one year, for example, and you terminate the agreement after six months, you may legally be liable for the remaining six months of rent. Your landlord, however, must mitigate those damages by trying to rent the property once you give your notice. If the property is re-rented shortly after you vacate, you may not be responsible for the entire balance of the rent.