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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