Mark Roemer image of a lease agreement

How to Break an Apartment Lease

Since most landlords do not want to rent an apartment out every month, they generally make tenants sign a lease. I, Mark Roemer, like many other landlords, opt for the one-year contract. It is not the only option when it comes to leasing agreements, but it is by far the most popular. The reason for a one-year lease versus something longer or shorter is that it is just the right amount of time. If a landlord were to insist on a more long-term lease, they might have trouble finding people to fill the vacancies. Shorter leases would cost a lot of money. As most landlords know, renting an apartment requires a lot of money. So short leases would end up negating your rental profits.

While all that sounds as though I am against breaking a lease, I understand that there are certain circumstances where it may need to be done. However, before we start on how you can break a lease, let’s take a look at what could happen if you break a lease.


A lease is still a binding contract. As with any contract, if you break the agreement, you may be subject to specific fees. The lease you have signed states you will be responsible for making payments until the end of the term. The fact that you get to pay once a month is just convenient. It would be hard for most people to come up with an entire year’s rent to pay from the start. So, landlords are basically saying, my apartment or house is this much money annually, but you can make twelve equal payments due on a set day.

Should you find that you need to cut your lease short, you need to talk to the landlord. Your goal will be to minimize the amount you will need to pay for the remainder of the year. They will likely want to be paid for the rest of the year regardless. In some cases, you may be allowed to find a replacement renter. It should be noted that the landlord will have the final say over who occupies their dwelling.

Additionally, they will also get to decide if the tenant is allowed to stay after the lease has expired. Generally, this isn’t a problem. When a landlord has a tenant, their last-ditch effort is to get rid of them. As I said, it costs money to re-rent an apartment.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons you can break a lease and the probability of facing a penalty fee.

Low Probability

If, for some reason, your apartment becomes unliveable. This can be anything from a natural disaster to circumstances out of your control. Anytime your residence is not considered liveable, you are entitled to breach of contract. I feel it is important to note that no fault of your own must have caused the damage. So, don’t think you can flood the apartment and get out of the lease.

Another reason you could be allowed to break the lease without having to pay is if you are called to active military duty. If you signed the lease before being activated, you are entitled to use the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act as your reason. The act states that at no time will any fine or penalty be applied to a person entering active duty. There is a similar act that protects you in the case of having to move due to a military order.

The final low probability reason I am going to discuss is injury. Should you find yourself needing to be in the care of a hospital or any other assisted living situation, you will likely be able to break your lease. There is no law protecting you from this, but most landlords would pity you if you had something terrible happen to you. However, you can check your state laws to find out for sure.

How to Avoid Penalties

Regardless of what you think, not every reason is a valid reason. Some laws are in place to protect not only you as a tenant but also landlords. Anytime you operate outside of the law, you should consider yourself lucky that you are getting a break from the landlord. That being said, below are a few ways you can avoid making large payments after vacating the apartment.

Give the landlord as much notice as possible. No landlord likes to think everything is going fine to find out that you are going to be moving. I had a tenant call me at nearly midnight one night and tell me they were leaving the apartment. They didn’t provide me with any reason. Naturally, I had to use the law to get money out of them after they left. If they had just given me some notice they were going, we could have worked together to an amicable agreement.

Offer to help them look for a new tenant. The hardest part about renting property is finding good tenants. There is a chance you know of a friend or family member looking for a place to live. Give them a call and set up the meeting between them and the landlord. If the landlord likes them, there is a good chance they will let you out of the lease or transfer the lease to your friend or family member.


I, Mark Roemer, would like to remind you again that a lease is a binding agreement. I feel that you should live up to your end of the bargain. However, if you are unable to, make every effort to help the landlord find a suitable replacement. If you don’t have time due to circumstances out of your control, expect you to be facing a fine. Before you do anything rash, make sure you contact the county or state to determine what rights you have. There may be conditions that will get you out of the lease without having to face a large payment.