If you are facing financial hardship and are wondering whether you can get out of your lease, you are in the right place.
In this article, I will be discussing whether you can break your lease if you can no longer afford it and will provide tips on how to manage that situation (at least from a lease perspective).
We’ll cover all of that in detail below, but the short answer to the question is as follows:
As a general rule, you cannot break your lease due to financial hardship, unless the lease permits it or the landlord is willing to accommodate your request. But there are other options available to you, including finding other grounds for termination, securing a replacement tenant, or terminating early and hoping that the landlord quickly finds a new tenant.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
Can I Break My Lease If I Can No Longer Afford It?
There are many reasons why you might no longer be able to afford your rental payments. It could be due to job loss, a reduction in pay, or rising or unexpected expenses. Regardless of the reason, your rental payments are now just too expensive and you need to find a way out of your lease.
But can you do it?
The first place you want to examine is your lease. Now it’s very uncommon for a lease to have some sort of general provision that allows a renter to get out of the lease if they are facing financial hardship. I’ve never seen one.
The reason is simple. No landlord wants to bear the risk of that. But there may be other provisions in the contract that can help your situation.
For example, if your lease is month to month (in which case, you can typically get out with some brief notice to the landlord), you are in luck. Although if you are on a month to month lease, you probably already know that and don’t need to check your lease to confirm it.
But even if you’re not on a month to month, there may be provisions that allow you to sublease the apartment or terminate the lease if you pay a penalty (more on that later).
Now, if your lease does not have these types of provisions, then it’s time to review your state and local landlord-tenant laws.
Note: Check out our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenants laws of your state.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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It is possible that your state or local government may have unusual provisions in the landlord-tenant laws that offer a way out for people who have lost their job. So it’s worth checking out. That being said, I would not have high hopes…most jurisdictions do not have such provisions in place.
If neither your lease nor your landlord tenant laws permit you to get out of your lease due to job loss, don’t lose hope. There are some other options available to you…
Review Your Lease Carefully
As I mentioned earlier, you will want to look over your lease carefully.
Obviously, a month to month lease is ideal because you can terminate on very short notice and you are no longer liable for paying rent under your lease once it expires.
Some leases also contain a “buyout” clause. This is a provision that lets a tenant end the lease early if they pay an early termination fee. Typically, these clauses require advance notice. Although it will hurt financially to exercise this right if you have it, it might be your best option.
A modest fee will certainly be better than being liable for all of the rental payment remaining on the lease (assuming you have a lot of time left).
Also read the lease to see if there are any conditions or other termination rights that you can exercise. If the unit is unsafe, or there are other conditions that apply to your situation, see what the lease says about that.
Communicate with Your Landlord
Let your landlord know that you can no longer afford the rent. Although they won’t be thrilled to hear the news, it is better to communicate with them as soon as you realize your situation.
Tell them exactly how long you can afford to keep up with payments with your current financial situation. See if they will set you up on a payment plan based on the finances that you currently have available.
If they can’t (or won’t) work with you on the rent while you live there, then see if your landlord will let you out with a modest payment. Even if you don’t have a buyout clause in the lease, there’s no reason why you can’t negotiate something like that.
Most landlords don’t want to litigate or evict if they can avoid it. That’s because taking a tenant to court can sometimes be more expensive than the amount of rent that you owe. If you are open, reasonable, and communicate with them, they may be willing to work something out with you.
Find a Replacement Tenant
You can also try to find another tenant for your unit.
This can actually wind up being a great outcome for you and your landlord. You can sweeten the pot by offering to list the unit and handle all of the work associated with finding a new tenant.
Tell the landlord you will answer all of the emails and calls from prospective tenants, arrange for open houses, and essentially take care all of the hassle and headaches associated with finding a new tenant.
If you’ve never done anything like that before, ask your landlord if they have a listing description that they have used in the past and any photos you can use. In many cases, they will be more than happy to oblige. If not, just look up other rentals in your area and see how they have described the units. You should be able to pull something good together.
You will also need to know your landlord’s screening requirements (e.g., minimum income levels, credit score cutoffs, etc.), so you can do the initial screenings on tenants.
I have found a lot of success finding tenants on zillow.com and apartments.com, so you may want to check them out.
Related Reading: If you want to learn more about how to break your lease early by finding a new tenant, check out my full article on the topic here.
Terminate Your Lease Early without Permission
As a last resort, you may want to leave the unit and not pay any further rent.
Now if you do this, you are gambling a bit. That’s because you may wind up being on the hook for the remainder of the rental payments under the lease. That’s the bad part.
However, there is a silver lining. In most jurisdictions, the landlord is required to mitigate damages by trying to find a suitable replacement tenant. Once they do, you will no longer be on the hook for your lease.
As I mentioned, it’s a gamble, so only consider this as a last resort.
Remember, if the landlord can’t find a replacement tenant fast, you will be on the hook for the rent until they do. That could wind being a ton of money.
Another risk of breaking your lease like this is that a landlord may report any non-payment of rent to credit reporting agencies and take you to court. These actions can have a serious and negative impact on your credit score, which could affect your ability to rent a new place in the future.
It’s certain not an ideal option, but it’s a ray of hope when all other options have been exhausted.
But before you choose this final option, consider whether there are any other grounds for termination that we haven’t covered already.
Check out my full article on how to break your lease early without penalty for more details. It includes 11 situations where you can terminate early (plus one bonus option that applies in all situations).
Facing financial hardships is awful and is all the more distressing when you have a lease you have to worry about. But the good news is that there are some solid options you can explore to get out of your lease (even if your lease and your state laws don’t allow for it).