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Legal How-To: Breaking a Lease Without Penalty

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 03, 2013 6:59 AM

Have you ever wondered about how to break a lease without a penalty?

Typically, a tenant must abide by a lease's terms until it expires. But contrary to popular belief, a lease isn't always ironclad, and there are a variety of ways to break a lease without legal consequences.

Here are a few potential ways to break a lease without penalty:

  1. Detect "early termination" language. Keep an eye out for language in your rental agreement like "early release," "sublet" and "re-let." Language like that may suggest that you can get out of your contract as long as you give notice by a certain time.
  2. Check your state laws. State laws vary, but a number permit breaking a lease under certain circumstances. For example, some states allow a tenant to break a lease if her employer relocates, or if an elderly tenant is moving into a care facility.
  3. Find a new tenant. If your lease doesn't spell out whether you're allowed to do tenant swaps, ask your landlord about it. If he or she agrees, make sure to get the agreement in writing.
  4. Find a dangerous condition. Most states have strict laws in place that allow tenants to break their lease without penalty if their apartment becomes unsafe, unhealthy or uninhabitable for any reason. That includes a landlord's ongoing failure to make necessary repairs.
  5. Find a legal loophole. If your landlord used an outdated standard lease form, it may very well be legally invalid. Figuring out whether your lease is invalid takes a fair amount of legal know-how, so you may want to consult with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney for help. Another option is to sign up for a personal legal plan like LegalStreet, which includes attorney contract and lease reviews (up to 10 pages); LegalStreet plans start at less than $13 a month.

These are just a few of the steps you can take to try to wriggle out of a lease without forking over a penalty. If all else fails, talk to your landlord. Believe it or not, your landlord is human.

Also, if you've already broken your lease but are on the hook for rent, look out for double rent. If your landlord has already found a new tenant, that may terminate your obligation to pay rent.

(Disclosure: LegalStreet and FindLaw.com are owned by the same company.)

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