If you are getting a divorce and wondering if you can get out of your lease early, you are in the right place.
In this article, I am going to cover whether you can break your lease if you are in the process of ending your marriage and provide some tips on how to do it.
We’ll get into the analysis and tips in detail, but the short answer to the question is as follows:
In general, you cannot break your lease early due to a divorce unless (i) your lease permits early termination for this; (ii) your lease allows early termination in general (e.g., a month to month provision or buyout clause) or (iii) your state or local laws permit it.
Now, even if you can’t satisfy any of the conditions I just stated, don’t lose hope. There are other options available to you, including securing a replacement tenant, or terminating early and hoping that the landlord quickly finds a new tenant.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!
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 I Get Divorced?
Divorce is an extremely difficult process and can create a lot of turmoil and stress, but unfortunately, it is not one that is generally recognized as an event that warrants termination of your lease under most standard leases and state and local laws.
First, Check Your Lease
That being said, you will still want to carefully review your lease.
Although not common, there are leases with provisions addressing divorce. In some cases, there are early termination options (although you may have to pay a fee or provide significant advance notice). If your lease deals with the issue head on and there are some reasonable options for you, then you should contact your landlord and go from there.
But what if your lease is silent on the issue (or the options under the divorce provision won’t work for you)?
The next step is to scour your lease for other provisions that may be helpful. 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, frankly, 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.
If your lease is not 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).
Second, Check Your State and Local Laws
If you don’t have any of these sorts of provisions, then you should move to the next step, which is looking at your state and local landlord-tenant laws.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
Although it is theoretically possible that your state or local government may have some unusual provision in the landlord-tenant laws that offers a way out for people who are getting divorced, I would not have high hopes…most jurisdictions do not have such provisions in place.
But you may want to explore if there are other provisions in your landlord tenant laws that may apply.
For example, if you are the victim of domestic violence, a good number of states have laws that permit you to break your lease in that sort of situation. Now, it’s not enough to simply claim this, you will likely need to provide proof to support that claim.
Some states and local governments allow you to terminate your lease early if you are facing physical or mental health issues that can be addressed by moving out. Again, this isn’t as simple as just claiming it.
You will typically need proof from a doctor or other qualified professional of your condition and will need to demonstrate how moving out would remedy your condition. There may be other stipulations as well.
Another option is to see if your place is deemed uninhabitable due to mold, pests or other unsanitary conditions. Under most state laws, you may be able to break your lease early due to a violation of the warranty of habitability if these types of conditions are serious enough.
If neither your lease nor your landlord tenant laws give you a clear path to get out of your lease due to your upcoming divorce, don’t give up. There are some other options available to you…
Check Your Lease For Buyout Clauses, Subleasing Provisions and Other Early Termination Options
As I alluded to earlier, some leases contain a “buyout” clause. This is a provision that allows a tenant to terminate the lease early if they pay an early termination fee. Typically, these clauses require advance notice. If you find something like this, it might be an option you want to consider.
Although it will hurt financially to exercise this right if you have it, paying a modest fee may 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. For example, if you are relocating your job and trying to start a new life as part of getting divorced, there may be provisions in your lease that deal with job relocations.
It’s just a smart practice to read over every line in your lease to see if there is something you can hang your hat on.
Communicate with Your Landlord
Let your landlord know that you are getting divorced and that the current living situation is no longer possible for you. Although they won’t be thrilled to hear the news, it is better to communicate with them as soon as you realize your situation.
See if you can work out a solution that works.
If the landlord has been doing this for some time, they probably faced similar requests and may have a standard way of handling them.
If they don’t offer a reasonable solution, you can propose things as well. For example, even if you don’t have a buyout clause in the lease, there’s no reason why you can’t negotiate something like that.
The bottom line is 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.
The bottom line is that if you can resolve the situation without the landlord losing any money, there is a really good chance they will be fine with your proposal.
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 can leave the unit and not pay any further rent.
Now if you do this, you are taking some significant risk. That’s because you may wind up being on the hook for the remainder of the rental payments under the lease (and other fees and damages if the landlord decides to sue).
Ok, so 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.
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.
As I mentioned, it’s a gamble and carries considerable downside risk, so only consider this as a last resort.
Legal Considerations Relating to Leaseholds in Divorce
If you are reading this article, I assume you want to get out of your lease, but it is important to remember that the lease with your spouse is a marital asset and will be subject to the distribution of assets in your divorce proceedings.
So if you rented the dwelling while you were both married, both you and your spouse have rights to it and it must be divided, just like any other marital property. You will want to consult with your divorce attorney on how to best handle the divorce side of things when figuring out the allocation aspects of your leasehold.
Check out this article from lawyers.com that explains leaseholds in divorce proceedings if you are interested in learning more about it.
Getting divorced can be a really stressful time, and trying to figure out how to handle your lease on top of everything else can seem daunting. 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).