If you are unhappy with your current rental arrangement or your life circumstances have changed, you may be looking to break your lease early.
But as you may have discovered, breaking a lease is not as easy as it seems.
Your landlord may not be happy about it and may claim that you need to honor the terms of your lease to its completion.
But what if you are able to find a replacement tenant? In that case, it seems sensible that your landlord should accomomdate your early termination, right?
Well, that’s what we are going to discuss. In this article, I am going to answer whether you can break your lease if you find a new tenant and share some practical steps you can take to effectively do this, even when the lease is silent or does not have a clear termination right for this.
But if you are looking for the quick and dirty answer to the question, here it is:
You may break your lease early if you find a new tenant, but that tenant must be acceptable to your landlord and meet their reasonable screening criteria. This process is called re-renting or assigning your lease and, if done properly, will result in the replacement tenant signing a new lease with your landlord and your lease terminating.
This article will give you detailed answers to all your questions and explain to you the different scenarios.
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.
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Can I Break My Lease If I Find a New Tenant?
There are essentially two potential paths to breaking you lease early if you are able to find a new tenant.
The first path is to sublet your dwelling.
Subletting (aka subleasing) is basically when lease your unit to the new tenant under a sublease between you and that tenant. Your existing lease with the landlord stays in place, but your tenant pays you the rent under your contract with them and you then pay that rent to your landlord (although you can have them directly pay the landlord too).
Of course, under this subleasing arrangement, you would move out of the unit and your new tenant would move in. Now it is important to bear in mind that you are still responsible for your lease, so even if your new tenant doesn’t pay the rent or starts breaking a lot of stuff through negligence, etc., you are on the hook for any breaches of your lease with the landlord.
You can try to get made whole by going after your new tenant, but sometimes that’s a losing proposition. That being said, subletting is a decent option if you really want to exit the unit and want to not bear the financial penalties of your old lease. So long as your new tenant makes their payments and is generally a decent tenant, this can be a fine way to do that.
Not All Leases Permit Subletting
Now it’s important to bear in mind that not all leases permit subletting.
In fact, many landlords don’t want their tenants to have unfettered rights to have someone occupy their property under a lease that they did not sign or approve. So you need to check your lease to see how it deals with subleasing.
As mentioned, a lot of leases will prohibit it outright and those leases that do allow it may require that you get the landlord’s consent before subleasing.
The second option to exit your lease early is to re-rent or assign your lease to a new tenant.
Here’s how it works. If you want to end your lease early, you find a replacement tenant (more on how to do that effectively later) and have them sign a new lease with the landlord.
Once that lease is signed, your landlord should release you from your existing lease (and you should receive your security deposit back when the lease terminates, assuming there are no outstanding fees you owe to the landlord or damage to the unit).
The nice thing about this option is that you are no longer on the hook for the lease, even if that new tenant doesn’t perform under the terms of their lease. You can literally walk away without any further obligations.
In most cases, under state law, the landlord has the obligation to find a replacement tenant if their existing tenant vacates the property and does not fulfill the remaining term.
That is called mitigation of damages and it is a common protection available for tenants who walk away from their leases.
Now it is important to note that landlords must use reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant. You cannot force them to accept anyone who walks in the door.
They are typically entitled to be somewhat picky about who they choose. Most landlords have a set of screening criteria, including income requirements, credit requirements, and requirements relating to backgrounds check and positive references. They probably used these screens when selecting you as their tenant and they are allowed to do so for the new tenant.
What this means is that if you walk away, you run the risk of having the landlord control the process, which could take a lot of time and cost you a lot of money. Remember, you are still liable for all the rent during the period of time that the unit remains vacant. That could be months, especially in a slow market.
Plus, your landlord will probably be really angry if you simply walk away and may institute a collection action or lawsuit against you.
A better option (in my view) is to talk with your landlord about your plans to exit the lease early and work together to find a replacement tenant. If you know in advance that you need to break your lease early, get started on the process of finding a new tenant as soon as possible.
The best outcome is plan out your departure with your landlord and try to line up a satisfactory tenant before you leave. If you have been communicating with your landlord and are able to find a suitable tenant that meets your landlord’s qualifications, they will often accommodate your proposal to re-rent your unit to that new tenant and let you out of your lease.
How Do I Find a Replacement Tenant?
Ok, let’s assume that you have notified your landlord and they are ok with you finding a replacement tenant. How do you start the process?
First, find out your landlord’s criteria for screening a new tenant. As mentioned, they will likely have income, credit and other similar qualifications that they use for new applicants.
Second, see if your landlord can provide you a description of your property and high quality pictures of the dwelling. You will need this to advertise the rental on the internet and on bulletin boards and other places.
They should have something like this – after all, they probably listed this property to get you as the tenant.
If they don’t have anything like this (or they are slow to provide it), take some pictures of the property yourself and write up a description of the unit that showcases its selling points. You can talk about the location, size and finishing of the unit, any amenities available in the unit or in the nearby community, and any other positive details about living in the unit.
You can take a look at existing listings for similar rentals in your area to see how other landlords and professional management companies describe their rentals. Mirror what they do to create a suitable listing for your property.
The next step is to list your rental on places where renters are looking. I have found a lot of success using zillow.com and apartments.com.
Once your listing is up, you should start getting calls, texts and emails from prospective tenants. Answer them promptly, schedule times for them to look at the unit and (hopefully) find a tenant that meets all of the requirements. At that point, you can send along promising applicants to your landlord for them to complete the application process and sign a lease with the right tenant.
If you can’t find a new tenant to sublet or re-rent the contract to, you’ll have to go for early termination.
First, you need to scour the lease to see if there are any provisions that will let you out for other reasons. Obviously, if you are on a month to month lease, you are in pretty good shape because you can get out on very short notice. Or, you lease may have a termination fee where you can get out by simply paying that (and not have to pay for the entire rent due under the remaining term).
Your lease may have other options for getting out as well (for example if you are relocating due to a new job), so really examine it with a close eye.
If the lease doesn’t allow for early termination under any scenario that fits your situation, don’t give up hope. There may be state laws that cut in your favor even when the lease is silent.
For example, I have written articles on some of these scenarios, including when your landlord has not provided a habitable dwelling, there is dangerous mold in your unit, you are facing harassment or stalking from your landlord, or you have a medical condition that requires special accommodations that your unit can’t provide, etc.
Of course, not every state has these protections, so if you want to investigate more, check out my page which contains links to landlord tenant laws for all 50 states.
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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And finally, when all else fails, there is always the walk away option that we discussed earlier. I admit it is risky and far from ideal, but, depending on your situation, this may be your last and only resort.
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).
So there you have it – an answer to whether you can break your lease early if you find a new tenant and some practical tips on how to do it.