Although some apartment leases are month-to-month, most leases are six months or a year in length. If all is well with the apartment, and you have a good relationship with your landlord or property manager, this usually isn't a problem. It becomes an issue, however, if you get cold feet after signing your lease or if your circumstances quickly change dramatically enough to make fulfilling the lease obligations impossible.
Notice to Vacate Requirements
How many days must pass before breaking a lease depends largely on the notice to vacate requirements in your state. Typically, you must give a landlord or property manager a written notice to vacate 30 to 60 days before you leave. The idea is that this notice gives the landlord or property manager time to prepare to re-rent your apartment. These requirements also deter tenants from entering into lease agreements without proper consideration to the rental consequences and benefits. Notedly, the notice to vacate doesn't require you to actually live in the unit for those 30 to 60 days, so you can move if you must. It merely means you have to pay rent for that time.
Many landlords include a buyout clause in their leases. This clause allows you to get out of your lease contract prior to the end of the lease term. To "buy out," you must pay your landlord or property manager a fee. Usually, this is based on the rent amount, with the buyout amount being a multiplication of the monthly rent. You also usually forfeit any security deposit with a buyout.
Combining Notice and Buyout
Technically, you could opt to utilize a buyout option immediately after signing your lease, provided the lease does not indicate you must occupy the unit for a specified time before the option is accessible. However, because of notice requirements, you still would be obligated to pay rent toward the apartment for one to two months. Because of the enormous expense related to buyouts, this is not the greatest route to follow, but depending on your circumstances, it may be necessary.
Landlord and Property Manager Variance
Despite notice to vacate regulations, the fact remains that landlords and property managers ultimately deal with tenants, not just the rental unit. Some landlords and property managers are very understanding when it comes to life circumstances. If you can show your landlord or property manager you've made a mistake or why you have no other choice but to not live in the apartment, she may let you out of the lease. This is especially true if you haven't even moved in, as the landlord or property manager's expenses are limited to re-advertising the unit. Not all landlords and property managers are this lenient -- from the legal perspective, they have no obligation to be -- but it does not hurt to ask.