Consequences of Breaking an Apartment Lease

Tread carefully if you need to break your lease.
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An apartment lease deserves full respect as a legally enforceable contract. Whatever the term of the lease, you have a legal obligation to maintain occupancy of the apartment and pay your rent on time. If something comes up and you want to end your lease early, put on the brakes and think carefully. The consequences of breaking an apartment lease could be more troublesome than you expect. Scrutinize the situation thoroughly before you decide to split.

Liquidated Damage Clause

Many leases contain a liquidated damage clause that stipulates the predetermined amount of money you will owe the landlord if you break the lease. This fee will probably include your entire security deposit and may include additional fees for advertising for new tenants and performing maintenance on the apartment. Because you signed the lease contract, you agreed to pay these liquidated damages if you break the lease. This means that you legally owe the landlord this money, and he can sue you if you skip out without paying up.


If you vacate the apartment and stop paying your rent, the landlord can sue you to recover damages. Damages include lost revenue from the vacant apartment, advertising to find a new tenant and repairs to the apartment. The landlord must make an effort to rent the apartment, providing proof to the court for advertising the vacancy.

Credit Reporting

Although most landlords don’t have the resources to report lease breaks to the credit bureaus, other scenarios could damage your credit in major ways. If your landlord sues you and wins, the civil judgment and the resulting debt from the lawsuit will show up as negative information on your credit reports. This judgment will sit on your credit report for seven years, where anyone who pulls your credit – including future landlords and employers – would see it.

Buy-out Clause

Read your lease to see whether it includes a buy-out clause or an early termination clause. These sections exist in the lease to give the lessee -- you -- a termination option when needed. Whether you’re getting married and need to move or your job is relocating, utilizing the buy-out clause can be a simple and effective way to break a lease without penalty. Frequent requirements for exercising the buy-out clause include the use of at least 50 percent of the lease term, a specific period of advance notice and a predetermined termination fee that you'll have to fork over to the landlord.

Legal Lease Breaks

Some states give tenants a pass for breaking a lease in certain situations. For example, military personnel who must report for active duty can usually terminate a lease without penalty. Some states may also allow tenants to break a lease if the tenant needs to relocate to a care facility. If a landlord violates health or safety codes with maintenance of the apartment, some states allow a tenant to utilize “constructive eviction” to move out without penalty. Visit the RentLaw website and click your state from the list to read your state landlord/tenant laws.

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