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Can I Get out of a Lease If I Haven't Moved In Yet?

A lease is a binding contract. Once you've signed it, there's no loophole that lets you easily break it—even if the lease term hasn't started yet or you haven't moved your stuff in yet.

Renters are sometimes under the misconception that they can easily break a lease if they haven’t actually moved into the apartment yet. Or that there’s some sort of 24-hour “cooling-off” period where they can go back on signing a lease, or a three-day “right to rescind.”

None of these things are true. (At least, not for residential leases.) Once you’ve signed a lease, you’re on the hook for the remainder of the lease term—unless your landlord agrees to let you out of it early. Even if your lease term doesn't start for a few more weeks, your options for getting out of your lease are the same as someone who’s been living in their rental for six months and needs to pack up and leave: you can sublet, transfer your lease, pay an early termination fee, or move out and pay rent until your landlord re-rents the unit.

"But the apartment is still empty!" you may be thinking. "It would be so simple for another renter to take my place." But consider the situation from your landlord’s perspective for a moment. By this point in the process, most landlords have already spent money advertising the unit. They’ve probably shown it to a number of potential renters. They might even have hired brokers to show it. Then, they spent time vetting applicants by running credit checks or calling past landlords. From their end, they’ve already invested a lot of time in the unit—even if you haven't hired movers yet.

You do have options, though, if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Negotiate: In many states, landlords are required to make their best effort to re-rent a unit to someone else if you can't move in. Tell them your situation and even offer to help them find someone. At most, you will have to pay rent until your landlord re-rents the unit—but not after!
  • Sublet: If you know someone who might want to move in, subletting might be your easiest and fastest route.
  • Ask to assign your lease: You can transfer your lease to someone new - which frees you of all legal obligations as well as penalty fees or rent on a place you don't even want.
  • Pay a termination fee: Early termination fees may be listed as an option on the lease that you signed, or your landlord may have a standard fee that they charge in situations like these.

Common questions

What if I haven't put down a security deposit or first month's rent?

Assuming you've already signed the lease agreement, it doesn't matter whether or not you've put down money on the apartment. Leases are legally binding as soon as they're signed by both the landlord and the tenant.

What if I was shown a model unit, but the actual unit looks totally different?

Unfortunately, you still can’t break your lease without your landlord’s agreement. A word of advice: you should always see the actual unit you’ll be living in before you sign the lease. If the management company won’t let you, that’s a major red flag.

What if I signed the lease without seeing the rental, and it’s in terrible shape?

More bad news: you still can’t automatically break your lease. That said if the problems with your new unit are so bad that they violate your state’s warranty of habitability—in other words, if the apartment is unlivable because it lacks certain essential elements like hot water and functional windows and doors—then you should inform your landlord right away. If they refuse to make repairs in a reasonable amount of time, there’s a chance you can move out and no longer be responsible for paying rent.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.