Can I Break My Rental Agreement?

Jo got a job in another town and wants to move there. She wants to get out of her rental agreement. She should be careful, though, and make sure she does it right, or the landlord may be able to sue her or take money out of her security deposit.

I’ve caught up on rent and I need to move. Can’t I just leave? What can the landlord do?

It depends on what type of rental agreement you have with your landlord. Read your written rental agreement carefully, if you have one. Do you have a written rental agreement for a certain period of time? If you do, and you leave before the end of your rental agreement term, you may have to pay rent for the months left in the term.

Well, I signed a written lease with the landlord last year. I think it was a six month lease, but I’ve been here longer than six months. Now I just pay the same amount of rent every month.

And the landlord has been accepting your rent payments? Well, he’s been cashing the checks, so yeah! Then it sounds like you have a month-to-month rental agreement.  Okay. Well I paid for this month, so I’m good to go, right?

Well, if you have a month-to-month rental agreement, you must give written notice to your landlord that you plan to move out, so he has time to find a new tenant.

Like write him a letter? Exactly. And the landlord must receive the letter at least a certain number of days before the end of the rental period. This number varies from state to state.

Rental period? The end of the rental period is the day before rent is due.

I thought I could just walk out… If you don’t give sufficient notice to your landlord first, your landlord may have the right to sue you. Although your landlord may sue you, it is likely that he will take the remainder of the rent out of your security deposit, depending on how much you owe. For example, let’s say that you’re current on your rent and your state requires you to give 30 days’ written notice before leaving. If you only give 15 days’ notice you may owe your landlord another 15 days’ worth of rent, which can come out of your security deposit.

Even if I’m not living here? Yes, unless he rents to somebody else and they pay. But he may not be able to find anyone. However, there are special rules where you may leave without giving adequate notice. There are special exceptions if you are a victim of assault by other tenants, or the landlord, or if you are a victim of domestic violence. Or, if you are a member of the armed forces who gets an assignment order.

Hey, I found my lease! Huh. I guess it’s actually a one-year term. So when does it end?  Not for another two months! If you leave before the end of a rental agreement term, your landlord can sue your for rent for the rest of the term. However, your landlord is required to try and find another tenant, and can only sue you for the months he isn’t getting rent.

What can I do? You can try to negotiate with your landlord to let you leave sooner, or ask him if he would agree to let you sublease the apartment. Read your rental agreement carefully before you go ahead and sublease, though.

Okay. I’m going to call my landlord and see if we can work something out. If you can come to an agreement, make sure you get it in writing.