A lease binds you to your landlord for a certain amount of time, usually one year. It includes financial specifics like rent payments, fees for late payments and one-time move-in costs.
It also covers roommate agreements and other aspects of apartment living, such as pets and subletting. But can you back out of an apartment lease before signing?
1. Read the Lease Carefully
Your lease is a binding legal document that sets out what is expected of you as a tenant. While some items in a lease may be negotiable, it is important to read it carefully and understand all of its terms.
If you’re not sure about a clause in the lease, ask the landlord to clarify it. This is especially important when it comes to items such as the amount of rent, whether there are pet deposits and/or fees and the date on which the rent is due each month.
Also, check to see if your landlord requires any security deposit, and how much. Make sure you understand the rent amount and when it’s due, as well as any penalties for late payment. You might be charged a flat late fee or charged daily for each day you are late with a payment. You should also be clear on what alterations are allowed and not allowed in the apartment. Many leases do not allow tenants to alter the property without the owner’s written permission. Cosmetic work like painting is usually fine but major alterations can be considered a breach of the tenancy agreement.
Finally, you should review the termination policy in the event that you need to move out before your lease term is over. There are a variety of reasons that you might need to break your lease early, including a job transfer, a new school or deciding to buy a home. Most landlords require a certain amount of notice and a fee to end a lease early.
Some landlords may be willing to let you move out early if they can find someone to take over your rent payments and the responsibility for property damages. However, this isn’t always possible and you’ll want to know if your landlord’s policy on breaking the lease early includes the ability to sublet the apartment or not. If it does, be sure you have a written sublease agreement in place and that the person you’re renting from has passed a background and credit check.
2. Be Honest
When you sign a lease for an apartment, you’re bound by law to fulfill it until the lease expires. Unless you have “just cause” or your landlord is amenable, it will be hard to back out of the lease without incurring a penalty. If you’re in the early stages of signing a lease, it may be worth asking your landlord to cancel the agreement before the lease takes effect.
The first step in doing this is to be honest. Your landlord will likely appreciate your honesty, especially if you’re dealing with extenuating circumstances. You should also be clear about why you want to break the lease. For example, you could say that you need to move closer to work or family. If you’re unable to move, a landlord can try to find another tenant to take over your lease, but they can charge you for the time that the apartment sits vacant.
Many landlords will have a clause in their lease that allows them to assign or break the lease if the original tenant has extenuating circumstances. This is an option to consider if you’re trying to figure out how to back out of your apartment lease before signing, but be sure to review the terms carefully. Landlords can still require a security deposit or first month’s rent, and you might have to pay a fee to cover the cost of advertising for a new tenant.
If the lease does allow for assignment or breaking of the contract, you should make a serious effort to find a replacement tenant. You can try to find someone to take over the remainder of your lease and sign a new lease with the landlord, or you could find someone to sublet the apartment for you. Regardless of which option you choose, be sure to document all your attempts in writing, and include the date on the letter.
In some cases, if you cannot take over the lease, your landlord will simply cancel the contract and re-advertise the property. You’ll be liable for any missed payments, however.
3. Be Flexible
When you’re looking for your first apartment, it’s likely you have a lot of things to think about. You’ll probably want to move out from your roommate’s home or parents’ house, and you’ll have a new responsibilities that come with being a renter. It’s important to find a place that you can afford. It’s also helpful to know how to back out of a lease if you need to. A residential lease agreement outlines your responsibilities and gives the landlord a legal right to ask you to leave the property.
The good news is that there are some reasons you can legally break a lease without penalty, such as death, financial hardship, or moving to care for an elderly parent. You can also usually terminate your lease early for work-related reasons, such as a promotion or relocation.
You should always review your lease carefully before signing it, and pay special attention to the lease term and any penalties for breaking it early. It’s a good idea to ask for a month-to-month lease instead of a yearlong one, so that you can easily back out of it if necessary. Make sure the dollar amount of rent is written correctly and that the start and end dates are clearly marked on the document.
If you decide to move out early, you’ll need to give your landlord enough notice that they have time to find a new tenant. Depending on the state you live in, your landlord may charge you a fee for breaking the lease early, which is meant to cover the cost of finding and screening a new tenant.
Your landlord may also try to keep your security deposit, and they’ll probably ask you to reimburse them for any cleaning or repair costs that are incurred because of your departure. This is a common practice, and it’s not unreasonable.
There’s a good chance that your landlord will still be willing to let you stay on as a month-to-month renter after your lease is up, but it’s a good idea to get this in writing. If not, you could be asked to leave at any time after the expiration date.
4. Have a Plan
An apartment lease is a legal contract, so once you sign it you’re bound to its terms until you move out. However, there are some circumstances where landlords will let you break your lease without penalty — such as when your employer transfers you to another city or state for work, you’re called up into the military or you find a new home. These situations, along with certain types of discrimination and domestic violence are reasonable grounds to break a lease.
When you review your lease, look for specific financial details, such as rent payments, whether utilities are included, late fees and a one-time security deposit. Also check for any alterations, such as painting, that require the landlord to revert the apartment back to its original condition at the end of your lease. This could be included in the maintenance and repairs section of the lease.
If you notice any issues during your apartment inspection that are not addressed in the lease, ask the landlord or broker what their plan is to fix them. If they say they will be taken care of, get that in writing and a clear timeline. This will give you peace of mind knowing that the problems won’t resurface once you move in.
The majority of landlords require tenants to carry renters insurance, which covers your belongings against damage or theft while you’re living in the home. This can be included in the maintenance and repairs section of your apartment lease or as a separate policy.
Some states have laws that allow you to terminate a lease without penalty if the landlord doesn’t make the apartment suitable for habitation or you can prove the landlord was negligent in their duties and not able to provide a safe environment. If you live in such a state, it’s worth considering asking your landlord to add this clause to your lease so that you can get out of the contract early if needed. Landlords may charge a fee for allowing you to terminate early, but they will save money by not having to advertise the apartment for an extra month or two.