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  • Writer's pictureErika Gilmore

So you want to break your lease...

Go right ahead, your lawyer will thank you for the extra holiday income.

I recently had a client ask me whether she could stop paying on a lease agreement she had signed. She found another place and didn't want two payments. Her friend told her "people do it all the time" and "that's why a landlord collects the security deposit and first and last month's rent." I certainly can understand that thought process, but there is more to the story. First, I told her what I tell everyone,

"The answer to any question you have regarding the relationship between the parties and their respective duties and responsibilities lies within the text of the contract."

Great lawyer answer, right? All that means is first you have to read the contract. There could be a termination provision, which allows for one party to rip up that bad boy and be on their merry way. For example, you might see something like "either party may terminate the agreement upon 30 days written notice to the other party." Unfortunately, most tenants won't be so lucky. Chances are that the lease was drafted by the landlord, and I know from experience that most tenants do not read the lease before they sign it. It is just not realistic to comb through all that legalize and often times financially prohibitive to hire a lawyer to read it for you.

The high probability is that the lease agreement is for a set term, let's say for one year. That means the landlord must provide you with the private enjoyment of the property for 12 months, and in turn you must timely pay the rent each month. If you have both signed it, it is a legally binding agreement. A tenant may not just walk away if she finds something better, just as a landlord can not kick out a tenant when he gets an offer ten times what you pay.

My client found some solace in the fact that a landlord generally has a duty to mitigate the damages. That means that if you tell your landlord you are moving out before the end of the lease, the landlord must do his best to find another tenant to fill your vacancy. Then you will just owe him the difference, if any, between what you were required to pay and what a new tenant is paying.

If you choose to walk, that's your prerogative. Just know that your landlord has rights too. He could choose to sue you or decide it's not worth the cost and hassle. Are you willing to take the chance?

Always your advocate,


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