What Happens If I Move Out of My Apartment Before My Lease Is Up?

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Early lease termination can be expensive.
Early lease termination can be expensive. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Terminating a lease early comes with complications. Before moving out, you need to read your lease thoroughly, understand your options and make what can often be a difficult decision. Most leases have termination clauses outlining your liability for early termination. If yours doesn't, you'll probably need an attorney or a tenant's rights clinic to assist you with determining your options under your state and local landlord-tenant laws. However, several options are common throughout the country.

Deposit

Moving out early almost always means losing your security deposit. If you paid first and last month's rent upon move-in and you move out before the end of your lease term, you may lose a portion of your prepaid last month's rent. If you have a favorable lease, this may be the extent of your loss.

Penalties

Many leases have penalty clauses. Review yours carefully. Sometimes, a penalty is simply a flat fee. For example, you pay $600 and can move out with no further complications. Other times a terminating tenant must pay an additional month of rent. Although these costs are undesirable, they're often better than the alternatives. With penalties, once paid, you bear no further responsibility and can walk away from your landlord.

Remainder

Some leases hold you responsible for the remainder of the lease term. This can be cumbersome because you either have to pay all rents due through the expiration of the lease, or remain responsible until your landlord can re-rent your apartment. Most jurisdictions require a landlord to make a good faith effort to secure a new tenant. You can also try recruiting a new tenant to improve your chances.

Get Help

Unscrupulous landlords sometimes include lease terms which aren't legal. If your lease seems to be unduly difficult to break or the penalties are very high, talk to an attorney or renter's rights organization. Not all jurisdictions allow landlords to hold tenants responsible through the end of a lease provided a tenant gives proper notice and forfeits a deposit. Additionally, if your landlord seems to invent fees or comes up with additional costs not delineated in your lease contract, get legal help.

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