How to Break a Lease

Three Methods:Sample LettersBreaking a Lease with Legal JustificationBreaking a Lease Without Legal Justification

For whatever reason, you can't live in your apartment anymore. Maybe it's the constant unannounced intrusions by your landlord; maybe it's the plumbing that's gone unfixed for five months; maybe you've accepted a job in a different county and can't commute three hours every day. There are plenty of reasons why a tenant would want to break a lease. States set up protections for both landlord and tenant in order to ensure fair standards across the board. Knowing what these are is essential to breaking a lease. Here's what you need to know.

Sample Letters

Sample Letter Notifying of Intent to Break Lease

Sample Letter Proving Landlord at Fault

Sample Letter Citing Issues with a Vehicle

Method 1
Breaking a Lease with Legal Justification

  1. Image titled Break a Lease Step 1
    Research state laws to see if any of the following legal grounds apply to your state. Tenants' and landlords' rights vary from state to state. A law that exists in Washington state, therefore, may not necessarily apply in Kentucky. Type in "[your state] tenant rights" into any reputable search engine for a fuller picture on your legal resources if you think that your landlord has violated your rights.
  2. Image titled Break a Lease Step 2
    Examine the terms of your lease to see if there are any built-in allowances for early termination. Make sure to ask for clarification of any area that might provide an "out" for you.
    • Look for instances of "constructive eviction." This is a legal term to describe something that a landlord does, or doesn't do that he has a legal obligation to, that effectively makes the property uninhabitable and forces you to move out.[1]
    • For example, if the landlord doesn't supply heat or water to your unit, that's a legal cause for terminating the lease. Some legal responsibilities the landlord assumes when renting out the property include:
      • Ensure basic responsibilities such as maintaining electrical, plumbing, sanitary, and ventilation standards.
      • Prevent or exterminate insect or rodent infestations, except when the tenant is responsible for the infestation.
      • Make necessary repairs. (Tenant should always make these repair requests in writing.)
  3. Image titled Break a Lease Step 3
    Make sure the landlord isn't limiting your "quiet enjoyment" of the property. This clause means a lot of things. Pretty much, when you sign a lease, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, limited noise, and use. Things that the landlord does that limit your ability to do any of these may give you legal justification to break the lease. If your landlord does the following, he may be limiting your quiet enjoyment of the property:
    • Interference with privacy. Your landlord may not simply enter your unit when he wants. If your landlord has let himself into your unit with his own key and without asking you, he may be liable.
    • Restricting use. Your landlord may not lock you out of your own unit, change the locks, etc. You have an expectation to use the property when you sign the lease; that's something the landlord cannot take away from you.
    • Reasonable use of rules. The landlord cannot make rules that single you out (they don't apply to other tenants). The rules he does make must be understandable, designed to improve the appearance of the unit or benefit the safety of the tenant, and not designed to evade legal obligations. Most major rule changes that are made after the tenant has agreed to the lease may not be legally enforced until after the lease has ended.
  4. Image titled Break a Lease Step 4
    Break a lease if you are called to military service.[2] If you are called to military service before you sign your lease, however, your contract is legally binding.
  5. Image titled Break a Lease Step 5
    Break a lease if you are a victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, or unlawful harassment by a landlord. In many states, protections exist for those who find themselves victimized by violence, harassment, or the threat of either from a landlord. Most states wish to protect victims who would otherwise be forced into close proximity with their antagonist, and therefore let them lawfully break the lease early.[3]
    • Likewise, if you find yourself threatened with a deadly weapon by a neighbor or your landlord, you may have legal grounds for terminating your lease.[4]
  6. Image titled Break a Lease Step 6
    Break a lease if you suddenly have to relocate for a job. Some states will make allowances for those who accept new jobs (out of county or out of state) and who therefore need to relocate.
  7. Image titled Break a Lease Step 7
    Break a lease if your health suddenly becomes worse or if you suddenly move into an assisted living facility.[5] In many states, if you suddenly become sick or need to relocate to an assisted living facility, the state will legally allow you to break the lease.
  8. Image titled Break a Lease Step 8
    Break a lease if you work on the premises and quit. No this doesn't apply to work-at-home types who operate their business from their unit. If you're a repairman at the premises, however, or a resident plumber, for example, you may be able to break the lease if you quit your job. The rationale behind this is that you shouldn't be forced to deal with an old (and possibly malcontent) employer on a day-to-day basis if you've quit your job.
  9. Image titled Break a Lease Step 9
    Break the lease if the property or unit has been condemned. If a property has been condemned, and the condemnation affects the habitability of the unit, the tenant has the legal right to vacate the premises without legal penalty.[6] However, a condemned property is not the same as an uninhabitable unit. An uninhabitable unit is mostly (if not always) condemned, but a condemned unit isn't necessarily uninhabitable.

Method 2
Breaking a Lease Without Legal Justification

  1. Image titled Break a Lease Step 10
    Know the extent of what your landlord must do. In most cases, even though you have broken your lease without justification, the landlord must take reasonable steps to find a replacement tenant.[7] This process is called "mitigation." Your landlord can't just sit back and wait for the end of the lease, then demand you pay him for the months you missed rent. In most states, the landlord must try to rent out the unit in good faith. Here are the caveats:
    • You may be responsible for covering the costs of advertising or showing the unit.
    • The landlord must take reasonable efforts to show and rent the lease; he doesn't have to take extraordinary efforts. What's reasonable and what's extraordinary, in this case, are often ambiguous. The landlord doesn't have to give away the lease for a bargain, and he doesn't have prioritize its lease above the lease of other properties.
    • The landlord can be choosy about whom he accepts for the new lease. The landlord doesn't have to take the first person with a pulse who wants to rent the unit.
  2. Image titled Break a Lease Step 11
    Know that many landlords are uninformed of their legal duty to mitigate. Even if your landlord does know he's legally obligated to try to find a replacement for you in good faith, that doesn't mean he'll jump at the prospect of doing it. You probably will have to nudge him to start mitigating. Do this by sending him a letter.
    • When informing your landlord of his legal obligations, keep things civil and specific. In your letter, be as kind and professional as possible, even if your landlord doesn't show you the same courtesy. Cite the law that obliges him to look for a replacement.
  3. Image titled Break a Lease Step 12
    Don't pay your landlord anything, especially if he takes your entire security deposit. Usually, when you unlawfully break a lease, your landlord will seize your security deposit. You're probably not going to get that back. But if your landlord asks you for additional money to cover rent, don't pay up.
    • Courts will often award landlords one month's rent, regardless of how slowly or quickly the landlord mitigated. So be prepared to lose at least that if your case comes up in court or arbitration.
    • If your security deposit was larger than one months' rent, however, and your landlord has seized it, you may be able to get at least some of the security deposit back. Here's how you do that.
  4. Image titled Break a Lease Step 13
    Keep track of all that your former landlord does and doesn't do to mitigate. If you're breaking your lease fairly early on, have a sizable amount of money in the bank account, or just have an ornery ex-landlord, be prepared for a legal fight. Your case may end up in court. In order to give you the upper hand and demonstrate that your landlord hasn't mitigated, you'll need to play sleuth:
    • Find out what efforts the landlord has made to advertise the property. Check whether the landlord has taken out ads, either online or in print.
    • Ask neighbors whether other units have been rented out but not your former unit. If the landlord has rented out multiple units in your former complex, for example, but not yours, you may have a convincing piece of evidence.
    • Find out if your landlord is double-dipping. It is illegal to claim damages in arrears from you and, at the same time, to be accepting rent payments from another tenant for the same unit. If you find out this is happening, your landlord's case is automatically moot.
    • Don't assume that the burden of proof will be on the landlord to prove that he tried to mitigate. Assume that the burden of proof will be on you to prove that he didn't.[8]
  5. Image titled Break a Lease Step 14
    Try to reach a settlement out of court, if possible. It's always better to reach an agreement out of court than force the court to make one for you. If you've gathered evidence on what your landlord has and hasn't done, bring it to him and try to persuade him how unwise it would be to seek damages in court.
    • If you have a lawyer to back you up, your evidence will be even more persuasive. If hiring a lawyer isn't too much of a financial investment, do yourself a favor and get one!
  6. Image titled Break a Lease Step 15
    Have your day in court, if necessary. If arbitration fails and your landlord is dead set on getting damages — or you are dead set on recouping losses from a security deposit — hire a lawyer and have your day in court. It's a hassle, and it will probably feel like a waste of time, but this could be a significant financial worry. Remember to collect all available evidence and be prepared to prove that your landlord didn't mitigate in good faith.


  • With car leases, look for any allowances to break the lease and add the remaining financial obligation to the price of a car you want to buy. This, of course, makes you immediately "upside down" on the car and isn't recommended, but if you realize you are driving more miles than the lease allows or the car has too many problems, you may be able to get out of the lease if you promise to continue business with the dealership. Dealerships will also sometimes offer incentives for lease trade-ins as the lower-mileage and newer cars bring bigger dollars to the dealership.
  • Most states won't allow a landlord to collect double rent. Ask a neighbor to keep you posted as to when the apartment or house rents again. If it's during the time your lease would still be active, but you've already paid out the remainder of the lease, you may be able to go back to the landlord to collect part of your money. If he's renting it for less than you paid, you may still be able to collect the difference.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Accounting and Regulations