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What do you do if you have a big life change — you take a great new job across the country or decide to get married — and you need to get out of a lease?

Many tenants expect to be living in the rental for the term they agreed to when they signed the lease. Sometimes unexpected things can happen and you have to regroup. Unfortunately, there can be financial consequences when you try to get out of a lease early.

Here are some tips on how to minimize the impact:

• Review your lease. In any lease, you are typically going to be responsible for paying the rent for the entire lease term. Typically, the only exceptions are for military and diplomats. Some management companies in apartment complexes have a lease-break clause that will allow you to get out of the lease by paying a penalty. If there is not a lease-break clause, look to see whether there are any other conditions that would allow you to break the lease to see whether they apply to you.


• Determine whether subletting is allowed. Most leases will not allow subletting. If it is allowed, be aware that your name is on the lease and that you are still responsible for paying the rent.  You are also still responsible for any damage that happens to the property. If utilities are in your name, you are responsible for paying them. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of being responsible if the renter leaves and stops paying rent or causes damage to the property or does not pay utilities. This can affect your rental history and your credit.

• Talk to the landlord. If there is no exit clause in the lease, try to negotiate with the landlord or management company on other options besides paying the balance of the lease. Explain your situation and see if there is any way to work something out. Offer to help find a new renter.

• Ask about a lease takeover. The best case is if the landlord or management company allows a new renter to take over the lease, removing you from the lease and having the new renter replace you as the lease holder for the remainder of the term. Make sure you see the application process for the prospective renter through to the end and that you have a copy of all the paperwork for the landlord.

• Know the limitations of lease takeover. There are some situations that may be very difficult, if not impossible, to work out a lease takeover — a co-op, for example. Co-ops typically have much stricter rules on renting — in some cases that landlord might have to go on a wait list to get permission to rent their home or will not be able to rent their home for a period of one or two years. In a situation like that, an individual homeowner will most likely not be able to do anything to get a co-op board to be flexible, depending on its rules. Condos are typically going to be more difficult than an apartment rental community, as they typically do not allow leases for less than a year and have rules against subletting.


Getting out of a lease with an individual owner also can be difficult. An individual owner is relying on you to cover their mortgage.  It is harder for them to bear the cost they weren’t expecting when you have to break a lease with them.

• Ask your new employer for help. If you are relocating because of a job and have to break a lease, ask the company to help cover the cost as a relocation expense.

In all cases, it is always best to be upfront and honest with the landlord or management company. Know what your situation is and have respect and understanding for the landlord’s position. Depending on the circumstances, it might be possible to work something out.

Nancy Simmons Starrs is founder and president of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment-search service.