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Tips for Tenants – How to Break a Lease

by Chris Lang on December 23, 2008

Apartment for rentLife is full of surprises and things don’t always go the way we’d like them to. So it happens that after you’ve searched for a rental house and found one, moved in and started getting used to the new neighborhood, something comes up and you have to move to a different place. If you are renting on a fixed term contract, leaving before it ends is called “breaking a lease” (or in lawyers’ language “terminating a tenancy without grounds”).

When it comes to breaking a lease, you need to know your rights as a tenant. Of course the landlord isn’t going to be happy about your leaving, because he’ll have to find a new tenant and that’s a hassle – but there is a limit to how much he can make you pay.

How to break a lease

You have to give a notice to the landlord / his agent as soon as possible and in writing that you intend to leave on a particular date. When you move out and return the keys in that date, your tenancy ends and you can stop paying rent.

What it costs the tenant to break the lease

Because of your leaving early the landlord is entitled to compensation. You will need to compensate him

1) for the loss of rent that he would otherwise be getting and

2) for the costs he incurred to advertise the house again.

This means that you’ll have to pay the rent until a new tenant is found or until your fixed term lease ends. The good news is that the compensation is limited to 25 week’s rent, so even if you’ve just signed for a year and after 3 months had to leave they can’t charge you for the whole remaining 9 months.

Speaking of costs of re-letting the house again, these too have limit. Under no circumstances your landlord can ask for more than a week’s rent to cover these costs. And no matter how much they ask for, request an itemized list specifying all of their expenses to justify the bill. In other words they can’t just charge you a “re-letting fee” of one week’s rent without explaining what exactly they spent that money on and proving that the money was actually spent.

I have heard from friends about cases where the landlord wasn’t trying to find a new tenant and just kept charging the tenants that broke the lease because that was easier for him. You should know that it is actually illegal, and the landlord is not entitled for compensation for loss that could have been minimized or avoided if they had the house advertised for rent. If this is happening to you, here is what you can do:

  • Make sure that the agency is advertising the house for rent
  • Make sure they haven’t increased the rent (because obviously that will attract fewer prospective tenants)
  • Don’t pay the rent (the compensation) up front – you should be compensating for the loss that the landlord has suffered, not covering anticipated loss.
  • Until they find a new tenant, keep checking that the house is advertised. If they take it off the market for renovations, you shouldn’t be paying the compensation.

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{ 320 comments… read them below or add one }

Namrata April 9, 2014 at 11:46 am

Hi,
We have just rented a house.it is only two days we have been staying here.we have two children at our home.one is 6 years old and the other is 6 months old.after moving in we found that the previous tenant had pets in the house.so we asked the realtor to change the flooring of bathrooms and kitchen and also the countertop.she says that she wont be doing it and we have to do it at our expense.so my question is now i want to break the lease which is for a year and we cannot stay here as the floor looks highly soiled but the realtor says that she got it cleaned by the professional cleaners.so how can we break the lease of this house and move from here.? Please help immediately.

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Jess April 10, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hi,

We are desperately wanting to get out of the fixed term rental agreement which ends October (for multiple reasons). At the 3 month check-up they said that the back stairs were going to get fixed because they are wobbly. This has not happened yet. We have just recently had our 6 month check up and I noted on the maintenance checklist that they are still wobbly. How or is there a way to get out of our lease without paying for anything as we can’t afford to?

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Jess May 21, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Hi I would like to know what to do as I have found a new place thinking my lease ends in June but It ends in July instead. I have paid rent for the new place but wondering what to do as I have to start the new place at the start of June. Please advise

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Chris Lang May 22, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Hi Jess, sorry but I don’t see any solution to the situation except paying rent in both places for the two months. You can ask if the landlord at your current place can let you go early without paying rent, but I doubt they will do that.

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sharan June 10, 2014 at 10:16 am

Hi
I have move to townhouse and I am very upset with my neighbors they keep sending me letters in my letter box since I move there that why your child was crying which is 3years 8 mon old. They punch on the wall yelling at us I have not replied them but now my condition is getting worse and I am taking headache tablets everyday.i told my real estate they said they can not do anything.they say me for a police complaint but I dont want to go into that matter very deeply because my situation is already getting worse. So I really want to break my lease so is I can get my bond back as I think it’s not my fault my real estate should tell me that my neighbors are old they want silent people in their neighborhood because how can I put my child on silent mood as he not a mobile phone. Please help me out

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Sarah June 11, 2014 at 12:49 am

Hi i have two childen , and i have about four months ago moved into my new rental, not even a month in, my realestate gave keys to a maintenance man to just let himself in, is this ok, as he literally just walked into my home and didnt bother to knock, i do not feel safe in my home anymore and feel like i cannot leave it unattended due t0 i do not know who has the keys and when, how can i break the lease, as i have just found out i am pregnant and there is no way i will stay here and feel unsafe, PLEASE HELPPP

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Helen July 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Hi, my daughter & I have rented together for the passed 14 months. We signed a new 12 month lease in May 2014, lease is in both names. However things have gone horribly wrong & we now want to end the lease.Can you give me any advice my main concern is she might just up & move out while Iam at work & them where does that leave me legally?

Thanks

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Siv August 30, 2014 at 10:03 am

I have a friend who only moved into a property a week ago. They seem to have issues of some sort of haunted feeling living at the place. They could not live for more than 4 days as the wife is alone at night as the husband works night shift. She feels like her covers are being pulled, and like some one is walking over her. Now they have moved into a friends place fearing to live in that house.
Is there anything they could do to break the lease. It has been a very emotional journey for the young family of 3

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Colleen Morgan September 3, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Have a 6 month lease, 3 month into lease. On moving into house,( daughter an 5 yr old grandson,) the back door could not be locked for the first 3 week, then they had to flick for cock roaches, remove lazy Susan from kitchen cupboard, electrician to fix expose wire near laundry power point. Bedroom door still not fixed, builder recommend it be replaced. Shower door , water pressure , leaking gas, toilet all had to fixed 4 week in house., windows did not shut, …. Now while we were told the neighbors were racist by real estate to to previous Indian tenants, but now neighbors threatening to trap an bait my cats, while their cats are also in our yard. My grandson can no longer play outside due to there abuse of him, he has adhd an mild autism.an the fear of him maybe getting a bait that was intended for animals. Have female friend visiting yelling derogertry remarks eg rug munchers. They continual abuse is creating stress to mother an son to where they keep the whole house shut up an stay in doors rather than face abuse an fear of kid pet being baited, can not turn aircon on because can not afford to run it. She now has lost casual job at childcare near by, with no car she chose area close to work childcare shops she is in hardship could break lease on hardship grounds but how will that affect her getting another house. When the neighbor are being intimidating at local shop. Being a single mum, trying to study an cope with handicap child whom is reacting to to the stressful envioment is not conditions any one should have to live in, they made the move from a thousand km away for a better future an this is how they have had to deal with there first 3 months, need to break lease where do we stand please.

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Silvana Caccetta September 28, 2014 at 12:52 am

I inspected a rental property fully furnished. It wasn’t clean but I was assured that it would be cleaned immaculately before I move in, a few weeks later I was due to sign the 12 month lease which I did , paid bond and 1 months rent in advance.
I was given keys. When I went to the house to move in, it was filthy, bathroom shower had build up of dirt around the shower screen , toilet filthy, ensuite shower had mould, oven had baked on grease, dishwasher filthy and there was even what looked like mice droppings hanging from the oven.
Inbetween the sliding door was a build up of dirt.
The back yard still had the bricks there and there was an area down the side of the house that was aprox 1.5ft deep with rocks, timber and rubble. I was told all this would be cleaned up and fixed as it’s dangerous.
I haven’t moved in and don’t want to as I feel sick at the thought of all that filth.
I even asked the agent to come right away to look at it which she did and when I asked her is she would shower, cook, or put her bottom on the toilet, she didn’t answer me but nodded no.
Can I get all my bond, rent back?

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tracey October 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

hi, myself,husband and my 8 year old daughter moved into a home back in january 2014, we signed a 1 year lease in july, my question is can we brake our lease due to heath problems with my 8 year old daughter, for the last 4 weeks (sping time) we have been to hospital 3 times due to her not being able to breath because of 3 quite large trees in our front yard that flower, one doctor seems to think its because of these flowering trees, a second doctor asked if we have asbestos in our home because she has syptems refering to asbestos, in accually fact yes we do have asbestos our hole back fence is this material which is starting to break in parts..the owner and our realestate know that it is asbestos and ower was ment to remove fence pryer to us moving in and has not done so, i was reading that realestate is not ment to rent out a property knowing that there is asbestos there, so if you could give me your oppinion that would be muchly apprecitated..

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Chris Lang October 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Hi Tracey, sorry to hear about the trees and asbestos. As a matter of fact this page says if any part of the building containing asbestos began to fall apart it should be treated as urgent repairs (at least in VIC) – have a read http://www.asbestos.vic.gov.au/in-the-home/for-tenants. You can also apply to the Tribunal in your state to get an order for ending your lease early.

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tracey October 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm

hi chris..thank you for your reply, we been asking about a new fence because of this asbestos for the last 10months aswell as a broken glass shower screen that was ment to be repaired before we even moved in ( i bet if myself partner or my daughter cut ourselves on this they would soon get a new door put on), but its like talking to a brick wall with realestates or owners they just seem to think people whinge, fair enough if its just small things but when it comes to things like this its a differant story, like we have been in a few rental homes over the past and i have an A1 rating when it comes to house inspections and on time with rent, do these owners/realestates not get once you have a good tennant then try and keep them there, so because of this we have desided that we will be moving on…

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Chris Lang October 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

You’re right Tracey, it is very frustrating when property managers and landlords just ignore genuine safety issues. I understand why you want to move somewhere else!

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