How to Break Your Lease – When You Want to Buy


If you rent and are considering buying a new home, you may wonder how to break your lease. Unless you can time you home purchase perfectly. (So that you can take occupancy at the exact time your annual apartment lease ends) You might be paying more than I need to.

You will either need to renew your lease on the apartment – and then be legally obligated to pay that lease on the apartment. Or you will need to leave your apartment early.

Which in that case you’ll be paying both your new home mortgage payments, as well as the remaining monthly payments on your apartment.

How To Break Your Lease: Step 1 of 1

Now you can’t just stop making monthly payments on your apartment to break you lease.

If you have a fixed lease agreement, you are obligated under law to pay until the end of the lease term, and a renter who just stops paying will likely find themselves in very tricky legal waters.

Fortunately, there may be some other options in this situation. The first thing to do is to meet with your landlord. Do it as soon as you decide to start home shopping. You can discuss alternative leasing options that can let you stay in your apartment until you’re ready to move, with little, if any, financial penalty.

Checking in with your landlord is incredibly important. It gives them as much time to find a new tenant as possible. It gives them options and respects their time.

Here are some of the things you can do.

Option 1: Switch to a Month-to-Month

Rather than renew your lease, ask your landlord whether you can continue to occupy your apartment on a month-to-month basis. This offers the ultimate in flexibility, and it’s ideal if you’re confident you’ll move in a matter of months.

To end a month-to-month rental agreement, you typically just give 30 days’ notice to your landlord. You can then leave without a penalty.

The only risk to keep in mind is that your landlord also gains the right to end the arrangement with 30 days’ notice. If the apartment building is in high demand, they might try to lock in another long-term fixed lease.

Some landlords will agree to month-to-month rentals for a slightly larger monthly rental fee.This is to be expected, since they are running a risk of the apartment sitting empty when you give unexpected notice.

But this is a small price to pay for having the flexibility to leave your apartment when you want. Paying slight more per month is better than being on the hook for 6 more months of rent.

Option 2: Renew Your Lease for a Shorter Term

Rather than renew your fixed lease for another year, see if your landlord will agree to a shorter fixed term, such as six or even three months.

If you renew for three months, for example, and still haven’t purchased a home, you can then renew for another three months. This option offers some protection to the landlord, who will have opportunity to seek new tenants in time to minimize the apartment sitting empty.

It will still give you some flexibility when timing your new home purchase. It will also help limit your “expected expenses” that you are on the hook for.

Alexander’s Note: Talk with your agent about your rental timeline. They can plan your offer to maximize your timeline and minimize your out of pocket expenses.

Option 3: Is Subletting an Option?

You may also wonder if you can rent the apartment yourself for the months you’ll be absent, then use the money to pay your rent to the landlord.

This does happen frequently, and is considered normal in many markets. It can get you into difficulty if you are not careful.

First, the rental lease you signed is between you and your landlord, and any damages that arise from a sublet tenant will be your responsibility.

You may need to act like a sub-landlord, collecting the money yourself and then paying the landlord.

It’s also possible your lease has clear prohibitions against subleasing. For obvious reasons. After all, your landlord has leased to you based on your financial background and reputation.

Introducing an unknown tenant into the equation can be very problematic.

Give Your Landlord Options to Break Your Lease

Still, it is worth a try if your landlord won’t agree to changing the lease in other ways. They might agree to a sublet even if it isn’t allowed in the lease. The goal is to reduce their hassles.

Approached directly, and allowing the landlord to interview and approve the person you’ve chosen may be all it takes to get the deal done.

The landlord’s concern, after all, is about losing money on an apartment that sits idle, and provided the income stream remains steady, they may agree to a sublet arrangement.

You will, though need to advertise, interview, and select an appropriate candidate, which can be difficult.

Remember that you are responsible for who you select, and you may not have much legal protection if your sub resident fails to pay—the responsibility to the landlord is yours.

Do not try to sublet on the sly, without telling the landlord. You almost never get away with this, and it’s not worth the legal risk.

When Other Options to Break Your Lease Aren’t Available

It’s possible that your landlord won’t agree to any of these options. Let’s say you just signed a one-year lease a few weeks ago, and you’re shopping for homes. Chances are you’ll be ready to move to your new home before your lease expires.

If your landlord is inflexible, then you may be without options.

Your best case in this situation, is to ask the landlord to put the property back on the market. Tell them you’ll pay up to the date when their new tenant moves in. After all, the landlord is going to want a new tenant, as fast as possible.

If all of that fails then your goal should be to break the lease in a manner that means minimal penalties.

Alexander’s Note: There is another option that we’ve offered for our clients. We’ve made an agreement with the landlord to find them a new tenant. 

We’ve advertised and found new tenants – at no cost to them – to get out clients into their dream home.