If you just signed a lease and want to get out of it, but are not sure if you can, then you are in the right place.
In this article, we are going to discuss whether you can back out of a lease after you have signed it and some options you can explore to get yourself out of a lease when you have buyer’s remorse (or in this case, renter’s).
We’ll get into the details, but the short answer is as follows:
As a general matter, you can’t back out of a validly executed lease for no reason, even if you haven’t moved in yet, or the lease term hasn’t started yet. Once signed, it is binding. There may be situations where you can terminate early (uninhabitability, threats to safety, military deployment, etc.) but as a general rule, there is no cooling off period for a lease.
That being said, there are options you can explore if you want to get out of your lease. We’ll talk about four possible options you can explore. 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.
Attempt to Secure a New Tenant
One of the best ways to get out of a lease early is to try to find a replacement tenant. The first step is to check your lease to see if it permits you to sublease the dwelling without your landlord’s consent. In most cases, this is not allowed. So, if you need to get your landlord’s permission, you need to tell them that you would like to terminate your lease early, but would be willing to try to find a replacement tenant for them.
Your landlord may be willing to do this, especially if you will handle the hard work of finding a new tenant for them. Make sure you try to find someone who meets your landlord’s application requirements (they pass the minimum credit scores, background checks, income, etc.). You will also want to find someone willing to take over the lease and pay the same rent.
You can consult with your landlord and ask them for pictures of the unit they use when marketing the property as well as a listing description. I have found good success with listing on Zillow.com and Apartments.com. Both have free options. You can also use craigslist (which is also free), but I have had better luck with the first two options.
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.
Is Your Reason For Wanting to Break the Lease Protected Under Law?
In some situations, the law gives you an out.
For example, in certain states, you can back out of a lease early if you are the victim of domestic violence, sexual harassment or assault, stalking, or other dangerous conditions. You can also generally terminate your lease if the unit is uninhabitable and the landlord fails to remedy it.
If your reason for wanting to back out of your lease is one that is protected under law, then you should certainly explore that and seek early termination on that basis. But it is important to coordinate with your landlord on this and make sure you do things by the book. Give the landlord proper written notice and allow the landlord an opportunity to cure the situation.
Now different states have different laws governing these types of issues, so it may make sense to do a little bit of research (if that is your thing).
Note: If you want to explore your state’s laws, 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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If you want to learn more about whether you can break your lease because you feel unsafe, check out my article on the topic here.
Note: As mentioned earlier in this article, you may be able to get out of the lease if you are military and called to active duty. In some cases, your lease may also let you off the hook if your employer relocates your job, so check your lease carefully if that is your situation.
In fact, as a rule of thumb, you should also carefully read your lease to make sure there is nothing there that may give you a way out if are faced with special circumstances.
Pay an Early Termination Fee
If your unit is in high demand and can easily be rented to someone else, your landlord might be willing to let you out of the lease without doing anything more than paying a modest termination fee. Of course, if the demand for that unit is not particularly high, then they might want a larger fee before they will consider letting you off the hook (or they might say no altogether).
If you haven’t moved in yet, then it’s a lot easier for both you and the landlord to pursue this option. The landlord won’t need to clean the unit again or do any touch ups or repairs and you won’t need to pay the costs associated with moving to a new place.
Leave Early and Hope Your Landlord Re-Rents Your Unit Fast
The final option you can look at is just terminating the lease without your landlord’s consent or cooperation.
In this case, you will be deemed in breach of the lease and will be responsible for the remaining rent on the lease. But in almost all cases, a landlord has some duty to find a replacement tenant. In that case, your obligation to pay the remaining rent goes away once the new tenant starts paying rent to the landlord (assuming the new tenant pays rent at a rate that is equal to or higher than yours).
If your situation just doesn’t permit you living in that unit and none of the other options above works, then you may need to roll the dice and hope your landlord finds someone fast.
As you can imagine, if you have a long time left on your lease and the market goes soft and your landlord can’t find anyone, you could be on the hook for a lot 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.
So think carefully before you do this and only use it as a last 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 – a clear answer to how long you can back out of a lease after signing it and some options to pursue if you still want to get out of your lease. Hope you have found this helpful and best of luck on your rental journey.