Can a Landlord Charge for Breaking a Lease?

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When you sign a lease, you agree to abide by its terms until the lease expires -- including staying in the apartment for the entire lease term. Most people do not want to move again and intend to stay in their apartments for at least one lease term, but sometimes circumstances force you to move. If you suffer from financial hardship, get a job in a different city or must go home to take care of a seriously ill relative, your landlord can charge you for breaking your lease unless he agrees in writing to let you leave early without financial consequence.

Lease Terms

  • Most leases list how much notice you must give the landlord if you intend to move out of your apartment and how much you have to pay if you do not give the landlord proper notice. A typical lease requires you to pay two months' rent as an early termination fee if you move out before the lease expires or without giving your landlord enough notice. Rent Law says that if your lease does not cover this issue, lease terms are governed by state law.

Mutual Agreement

  • If the landlord and tenant mutually agree in writing to terminate the lease without penalty to the tenant, the landlord cannot then charge an early termination fee to the tenant. Both the landlord and tenant should sign a paper copy of the agreement once they make it. Oral agreements are not considered valid as there is no proof that the landlord and tenant agreed to or understood the terms of the agreement.

Automatic Renewal

  • Some leases have a clause stating that they renew automatically if neither party gives proper notice to the other party stating that he does not intend to renew the lease. If your lease contains an automatic renewal clause, be sure to give the landlord notice at the proper time, as you may be subject to early termination fees if you give notice after the lease renews.

Subletting

  • If you need to move and cannot afford to break your lease, talk to your landlord about the possibility of subletting -- getting someone else to rent and live in the apartment while keeping it in your name until your lease expires. Landlords must agree in writing to allow you to do this. Subletting can be risky because you are still responsible for the rent; if your sublessee fails to pay, your landlord can take you to court.

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