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When Can I Break My Lease Without Penalties?

Although there are a lot of scenarios where it's reasonable to want to break your lease, only a handful of them are covered by the law.

Even if you sign a lease with the intention of staying for a full year, sometimes the world just won’t cooperate. Life doesn’t always happen in perfect 12-month increments. We get it—but the law isn’t as understanding. There are very few scenarios where you can, with legal backing, terminate your lease without your landlord’s agreement and just leave.

That said, even if you don’t have the legal equivalent of a “get out of jail free” card, you can always—always—negotiate with your landlord to end your lease early. So even if you can’t automatically break your lease, you still have other options for moving out of a rental early. Below, we answer some of our readers' most frequently asked questions about breaking a lease.

Q: Can I break my lease if I get a new job?

A: No, there are no laws that allow you to automatically break your lease to relocate for a job. But you may be able to negotiate a relocation package with your new employer that will cover any early termination fee your landlord may charge.

Q: Can I break my lease if I buy a house?

A: No. Although there is a persistent myth floating around that homebuyers are legally allowed to break a lease without penalties, there’s no actual law on the books that supports this. That’s true anywhere in the U.S.

Q: Can I break my lease if I haven’t moved in yet?

A: No. From a legal perspective, it makes no difference whether you signed a lease two weeks or six months ago. It’s a binding contract with a specified end date.

Q: Can I break my lease if I just signed it?

A: No. There are certain types of contracts that allow a 24-hour “cooling off” period during which you can go back on your decision. That’s not the case for rental leases. Once you’ve signed a lease, you’re committed.

Q: Can I break my lease if I’m in the military?

A: Actually, yes! This is one of those rare cases where there's a federal law that allows servicemembers to break their leases without penalty—as long as they’ve been deployed or reassigned to a new place. It does not mean that members of the military can break their lease at any time without paying fees. Certain states also have their own laws that make it even easier for members of the military to get out of their lease early.

Q: Can I break my lease because of mold?

A: In some situations, yes. The mold problem has to be severe enough that it's making your unit unsafe or uninhabitable, which means your landlord is violating a legal guarantee known as the "warranty of habitability." You also have to follow the appropriate legal process before moving out and terminating the lease, which includes notifying your landlord in writing of the problem and giving them a reasonable amount of time to deal with the mold.

Q: Can I break my lease because of domestic violence?

A: There’s no federal law protecting victims of domestic violence (or related crimes like stalking or harassment), so it depends on where you live. Many states do allow renters experiencing domestic violence to break their lease without penalties, such as California and Washington. Tenants must follow the process outlined in the law to legally terminate their lease, which typically includes gathering documentation of at least one violent incident.

Q: Can I break my lease for medical reasons?

A: If a new or worsening disability makes living in your apartment difficult or unsafe, ending your lease early might be an option under fair housing laws. Your condition must be considered a disability under the Fair Housing Act, and the disability must be the thing that's preventing you from using your rental.

Q: Can I break my lease if I’m a senior citizen?

A: Only in a few states. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut allow seniors who are renting to break their leases early without paying any fees, as long as they’re moving into a nursing home or the home of a relative.

Q: Can I break my lease if I don't feel safe in my apartment?

A: It depends. There are no laws anywhere in the U.S. that let you automatically break your lease if your neighborhood is dangerous. However, if your landlord isn't maintaining certain safety standards in your building—such as working locks and unbroken windows and doors—then it may be a violation of the warranty of habitability (and potentially a reason to move out early). And there are laws that protect renters from harassment, from both their landlords and fellow tenants.

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