How to Get Out of an Apartment Lease

In a past post, I talked about my inability to negotiate with an apartment complex. In that circumstance, my lease expired and I was trying to stay there at the same price for the remaining 3 months I was going to be there. Unfortunately, they said that there was nothing they could do and I paid the 17% increase for those 3 months. But what if you need to terminate your lease BEFORE it expires? Resonably priced apartments can become very unaffordable when you lose a job. If you break a lease, many times you lose your deposit, you must pay next months rent, or you may have to pay a percentage of the amount remaining on your lease. Sometimes this can be a substaintial amount. In our personal situation, we would have to pay 25% of the remaining rent on our lease if we were to move out. Given that we have 6 months left, we would owe them over $1500 just to move out. That’s quite a wallet emptier! Here are some ways to work around some of these leases. Many may not be applicable to you, so it’s best that you check your lease document or talk to the apartment manager.

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Negotiate Your Remaining Lease

Although I have had lots of bad luck with negotiation, you may fair better. Speak to your landlord and tell them your unique situation. Let them know that you have every intention on staying but since your circumstances have changed, you may not be able to make the whole payment. You may be surprised to see that the landlord will be willing to agree on a slight reduction in your rent. Sometimes it’s more cost efficient for them to reduce your rent rather than pay to evict you and search for a new tenant. This may be easier in an area that has slow growth rather than rapid growth. If the landlord has 10 people in line waiting to get your apartment for a higher rent, they will evict you in no time. If they do decide to negotiate with you, make sure you get it in writing!

Find Someone to Take Over the Apartment

There are two ways for this to happen: you can either sublease or have the new tenant assume the lease. A sublease allows you to rent the apartment to another person. They basically replace you in the apartment and begin making the required rent payments. With a sublease, you are still obligated to pay the rent if your subtenant fails to pay. These types of agreements are hard to come by. In the two complexes I have lived in, neither have this clause in the lease. If allowed, the landlord will more than likely have to approve the new tenant.

When a new tenant assumes your old lease, you are free from it for good. They basically just sign a new lease from the landlord for the remaining time that was on your lease. If the neglect to pay, the landlord will not look to you to pay. In my opinion, this seems like the more logical choice, especially for the landlord. They will be able to get a new tenant to replace you and they have the opportunity to choose the person.

If All Else Fails

If none of those options worked, you may just have to break the lease. You should first evaluate the financial consequences for such a move. For example, let’s say you have 6 months left on your lease and you are having trouble paying the $600 rent (you can only afford $500). In order to move out of this apartment and into a more affordable one, you must pay $1000 in additional rent to break the lease. That does not make financial sense because you are paying $1000 to get out of $600 in additional rent ($100 x 6 months). You should stay in the apartment and just find additional ways to pay the rent, even if it means putting the additional $100 a month on a credit card (just the $100!).

Also, be sure to give the landlord an appropriate amount of time to find a new tenant or they may slap more fees on you. You also want to make sure the landlord is trying to rent the property. If you told them that you need to move out and they are not actively searching for a new tenant or allowing you to sublease, you may a defense if the landlord tries to collect additional rent (fees) from you.

5 thoughts on “How to Get Out of an Apartment Lease

  1. red

    I just recently broke the lease on my apartment to move home with my parents while returning to school. I was in the same apartment for 2 1/2 years and hated to leave, but realized returning to school was more important than whatever I would have to pay to stay. I approached my landlord with my situation. To my surprise, because I had been there for more than 1 year, they were very flexible with me. I had to pay 1 months rent to break the lease and I was out. Even more surprising, a month later they returned my entire deposit, the cost of 1 months rent, plus the interest earned for the 2 1/2 years I was there. I never thought to ask about the deposit, I assumed it was a sunk cost. I actually ended up making nearly the same back (my rent had gone up a bit in the years I was there). What I assumed would be a horror story to break the lease was not! I will definitely return here once I finish my degree and move back out of my parents house!

  2. Adam

    @Red – It’s great to see these tips in action. Something that everyone should take from your comment is that you have been a great tenant. As long as you continue to treat the landlord with respect (and rent payments), they will be more willing to work with you if you get in a bind. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Matt @ StupidCents

    This brings up something that happened to my wife and I last year. We were looking for an apartment together for when we got married. We liked the location of one apartment complex and asked to see some of the units. The manager had said there were no openings, and that we would have wait until the first of the month which was a few weeks away, but we could still see those units that were coming available.

    After looking at some of the units, it looked like the tenants were on the move and the place looked vacant. We explained we really needed to move in as soon as possible and maybe we could work out a deal with the existing tenant since it was obvious they were not living there. The manager refused.

    We then moved our focus to other apartment complexes. A few days later the manager calls saying that she has an opening right away. We came to check it out…the manager explained the tenant has moved out since they purchased a home, but still have 7 months on the lease. It was their policy that you can’t buy out a lease or sublet. Interesting…

    It’s funny, even though we explained we wanted to move in ASAP, they didn’t want to divulge this secret, because to them, they knew they were getting their money anyways.

    Now with the given market, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have tons of open units!

    Stupidly Yours,


  4. Adam Post author

    @Matt – That’s crazy! Did you end up moving there? I would have said forget it! Especially knowing that if we would have to move suddenly, we would have to pay for TWO apartments! They just wanted to wait to put you into an apartment that was truly vacant (no income for them) so they could increase their revenues. Sad. 🙁

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