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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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{ 312 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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