If you want to leave right away and don't want to pay a breakage fee, you can forfeit your security deposit and leave without notice. The legal term for this is abandonment. The difference between abandoning your lease and breaking your lease comes down to your landlord's involvement. When you leave without any kind of notice at all, then you have no assurances that your landlord won't sue you or take you to housing court. At the very least, you definitely won't get a good reference with them.
On the other hand, it's possible to break your lease amicably without putting your reputation as a renter or creditworthiness at risk—you can pay a breakage fee to your landlord in exchange for their signature on a document that officially releases you.
Abandonment may seem easier as long as you are okay with losing your deposit, but it is more dangerous than you might think. You should take these added risks into account:
- Your landlord could sue you for lost rent and any additional expenses.
- Your landlord could submit unpaid rent as debt to a collection agency.
Both of these things get reported to credit agencies and can make it much harder for you to rent an apartment in the future.
Getting sued for damages
There is a cap to the amount of money you could be sued for. Assuming you live in a state where your landlord is required to mitigate damages, you can only be sued for the amount of rent that they weren't able to cover by finding a new tenant. They're required to make a good-faith effort to re-rent your unit to a new tenant as quickly as possible once you have left.
If it comes to this, you could find out if your landlord made a good-faith effort: did they advertise your apartment? Searching your address and seeing if there is a listing up that you didn't create. Did they organize viewings? Ask neighbors if they’ve seen any tours happening.
Make sure that the unit is, in fact, empty and the landlord isn’t just trying to get double their money. The burden of proof falls on the renter in most states, so gather any evidence and information you can.
Effect on your credit
Besides the threat of a court date, abandoning the premises could hurt your credit and make it hard for you to get a lease in the future. Your landlord may turn your debt over to a collection agency, which may report accounts to credit bureaus. Collection accounts can remain on your credit report for up to seven-and-a-half years, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so be careful.
Lease abandonment is a risky endeavor. Unpaid rent works like any other debt, and could severely damage your financial health. Find a replacement renter and sublet or assign to them, instead.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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