Whether it's a new job in a different city or a breakup, sometimes things happen in your life that just don’t fit with the terms of your lease. You have four options if you need to get out of your lease early: sublet, assign, pay a lease break fee, or move out after notifying your landlord (and hope they re-rent quickly). We’ll walk you through each choice below.
Even if you’re not sure which route you want to take, you can always start by finding a tenant interested in your rental. At that point you can decide—with the potential tenant and also with your landlord—if it makes more sense to break, sublet, or assign your lease.
Option 1: Sublet your rental
Subletting is the fastest and cheapest way to get out of a lease. You are technically still responsible for the rent payments, but someone else is living there and has agreed to pay them. Landlords are less likely to charge extra fees for a sublet. The approval process usually involves a review of your proposed sublet agreement and the credit, background, and employment information of your applicant.
Option 2: Assign your lease to someone else
Another option is finding someone who wants to move into your place, then transferring the remainder of the lease over to them. Your original lease remains active. It's simply assigned to the new tenant—meaning that the monthly rent and the end date of the lease remain the same, and the landlord isn’t responsible for repainting or cleaning up the apartment like they would be for a brand-new tenant.
Assigning is similar in some ways to subletting, but the big difference is that your relationship with the landlord formally ends. As long as they legally release you from the lease, you are no longer responsible for paying the rent. Landlords often charge between $100 and $1,000 for a lease assignment, and the approval process is exactly the same as when a renter applies for a new lease at your building.
Option 3: Pay a fee to break your lease
A lease break is when a landlord terminates the lease contract and puts the unit back on the market. This nearly always involves you paying some kind of buyout or penalty fee. These can be hefty—as much as two or three months’ of rent. You may be able to negotiate a lower fee in some instances, however.
Keep in mind, however, there are certain situations in which you’re legally allowed to break a lease with no penalties—for example, if you’re a service member and you’re entering active military duty in another location, or if your rental unit is in such bad shape that it’s become uninhabitable. Read through the laws in your state to see if you might have a valid reason to get out of your lease early without paying a fee.
If you’re dealing with a particularly inflexible landlord, you may need to rely on the legal concept of "damage mitigation." In most states, if you move out before the end of your lease, your landlord is required to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant to replace you. You’re only on the hook for rent payments until that new renter signs a lease.
If you’re in a popular rental market—New York City, say—there’s a good chance it won’t take too long for the place to rent. But if the rental market is slow where you live, you could end up being responsible for a significant chunk of money (especially if you have a lot of time left on your original lease). Keep in mind that your landlord only has a responsibility to look for a new tenant, not necessarily to find one. As you can see, this is the last option for a reason: it leaves a lot up to chance.
You can also search for a qualified replacement tenant yourself, and present them to your landlord. If your landlord rejects the applicant without a valid reason, then they've failed to mitigate damages—and you're no longer responsible for paying rent after you move out.
What if I just move out without telling my landlord?
Abandonment is when you pack up your stuff and leave without notice, forfeiting your security deposit. Your landlord can sue you for lost rent and report the incident to credit bureaus. This could make it very hard for you to rent an apartment in the future—and we don’t recommend it.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.