Are you a tenant who has a lease in place but for some reason you need to end it sooner than the current expiration date? Maybe your income has changed and you cannot afford it, you’re in a new relationship and want a bigger space, or need to relocate for a job. Whatever the reason, you need to move. What do you do?
1. Check your lease
Are you sure you’re in a lease? After the initial lease term, if you and the landlord didn’t agree to renew for another period, then you may just have a month-to-month lease in place that either party can end with notice and without any penalty.
Most leases should have a clause that stipulates what happens when the tenant needs to terminate it early. Sometimes the information is missing or vague and you’ll need to ask your landlord or property manager for more details.
2. Why are you terminating your lease early?
Assuming you do you a lease and aren’t month-to-month, why you’re terminating may also affect if there is a penalty. For example, in most states, if you’re in the military and get orders to move then you still need to give notice, but the landlord needs to let you out of the remaining time.
Another reason for terminating where penalties might be waived by law is if you’re a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or unlawful harassment. If one of these situations applies to you then you may just need to provide a police report to your landlord or property manager and you could be let out of the lease without penalty.
Other common reasons for terminating a lease early like a job transfer, job loss, end of a relationship, roommate issues, or just wanting to live in a different property, an early lease termination penalty will most likely apply. Landlords will typically be willing to work with you since most do not want a tenant who cannot pay rent at the property.
Maybe there’s a maintenance issue at the property that makes it uninhabitable so you cannot live there. In this scenario, you must report the issue to the landlord or property manager first, so they have an opportunity to fix it. If it’s obvious that it cannot be fixed within a certain timeframe (depending on your state but it could be as much as 60-days), then the landlord must let you out of the lease without a penalty. An example of this would be if the house burns down.
3. Communicate with your landlord or property manager
The sooner you make them aware the better. Sometimes, circumstances will work out in your favor and the landlord will mutually agree to end the lease early without penalty. Maybe he/she wants to sell or move back in and wants to end it earlier as well. If so, just make sure that the new end date and changes (if any) to penalty fees are put in writing, everyone signs (get a copy), and you’re good to go.
What is an early termination fee?
Let’s say that is not the case. If the landlord doesn’t want to end the lease early and the reason you’re moving doesn’t waive any penalties, most likely there is an early termination fee that you are responsible for paying. The fee is in addition to any move fees required by the homeowner association and does not release you from leaving the place in clean condition. Basically, everything you would normally do and must pay for at the end of the lease you are still responsible for.
The early termination fee typically gets applied to expenses/time the landlord incurs when trying to find a new tenant and for lost rental income after you move out and stop paying rent and before a new tenant moves in. The termination fee may be a fixed amount (i.e. equal to two months’ rent) or a fixed amount plus rent until a new tenant starts a lease and begins paying rent.
The most important thing is that you read your lease before you sign it so you know what you’re agreeing to and if the situation comes up, you communicate what’s happening as soon as possible with your landlord or property manager so they can assist you with what the next steps are. The sooner the rental is marketed, and a replacement tenant is found, the shorter the vacancy period which may lower your early lease termination fee.