Help! How to break a lease when you're in a bind

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A lease can be a lot like a relationship. Sometimes you jump right in and quickly realize it wasn’t right for you, or you stay in it until something inside you hints that it’s time for change. 

Whether you’re leasing an apartment because you’re not financially prepared to buy a home yet or you simply don’t want to commit to one space, there might be a situation where you need to break things off. Figuring out how to break a lease can certainly be overwhelming and stressful, but it shouldn’t keep you from getting out of a home that’s no longer serving you.

Rather than freak out about the process ahead, follow these simple steps to help you make that change. 

 Read the Room (and the Contract) 

To avoid making a rash decision, go back and read your lease before doing anything else. After you’ve read it once, read it again. It’s important that you fully understand what you agreed to when you originally signed the document, including any rent increases.

It’s likely that in your agreement there is a section about ending your apartment lease early. Unfortunately, there are often penalties and fees associated with breaking a lease early. So now what? You’ve read the agreement but know that ending it is still the best way for you to move forward. 

 Time to Have “The Chat” 

Just like when you end a relationship, communication and honesty is key. Because things are ending, there is no need to hold back or try to hide anything. The best thing you can do is give your landlord as much notice as possible. 

Life will always throw you curve balls — maybe a new job opportunity has presented itself or you need to be closer to family. Whatever the situation is, if you can be flexible with the timing of your move, it may go over better. 

If the break of your lease is urgent and is in violation of your agreement terms, you can try to find someone to take over and pay your portion of the rent. With that being said, your landlord may not be satisfied with a replacement tenant, so be sure to communicate well throughout the process.

 Come to “Terms” With Things  

If finding a replacement tenant is off the table, your landlord will likely present you with a termination offer. Keep in mind that you may have to pay a fee for breaking the lease prematurely. Note that leases, contracts, and penalties will differ for each state so it may be wise to do some research on lease terms for the specific state you live in.

There are a few examples or circumstances where a penalty cannot be enforced because the landlord is at fault. Again, this will differ state by state, but examples include unsafe spaces or health code violations. Also, active military who are called to active duty would not be in violation of any lease or contract and therefore cannot be charged with a penalty. Plus, if your landlord has entered your space without notice or permission this could also be in violation of your space. 

 Love Where You Live 

At the end of the day, you won’t be able to thrive in your day-to-day life if you’re not happy where you’re living. Whether by choice or by circumstance, a move is in your future and you need to end things with your current apartment. 

To make this life transition as easy as possible, be sure you have all of your facts straight and take time to prepare yourself to have a hard conversation. It’s also smart to be ready for multiple outcomes that your landlord might present you with. 

Ending your lease may feel intimidating but if you properly prepare for it, it can be a smooth sailing situation rather than a costly compromise. Either way, moving on to something new will surely be the best thing for you. 

If the next chapter for you includes a lease agreement, be sure to read those terms and conditions carefully. Propose going month to month to give you more flexibility or negotiate an exit strategy ahead of time, making your next move less stressful.

Pro tip: While this is all great information, if you are still confused or perplexed, it’s always best to seek legal advice. Be sure you read and understand your rental agreement before you sign it. Consult with a professional if things are complicated! 

Kara Thompson

About me: 

Kara Thompson is a Denver-based journalist with over five years of experience writing lifestyle content. She has written for a variety of publications, including,,, and Parents, where she covered all things home, food, fashion, travel, and holidays. During her time on staff at Parents, Kara launched her own home decor and organization column named Save My Space. In 2022, she left her full-time job as an editor and started her own writing, editing, and social media firm, Kara Thompson and Co.

Tennis, New York City, bourbon cocktails, and her sister's German Shepherd are a few of her favorite things.