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Back in 2003, my wife and I had to move out of our apartment before our lease was up. Her father was sick, in and out of the hospital, and he needed us close by to help care for him. Unfortunately, when we approached our landlord with our predicament, we learned that breaking our apartment lease would cost us $2,000, the equivalent of two months' rent.
We didn't have that kind of money taking up space in a random bank account, so we had to get creative. Although we knew we had to move, we didn't want a black mark on our credit reports, and we didn't want to spend the next six months eating ramen noodles and Saltine crackers.
The Sister Property
I've always thought of apartment complexes as single entities, existing in a vacuum. This experience taught me, however, that very few apartment communities are the exclusive real estate holdings of their owners. Most are owned by large property management firms that have several properties available to renters.
Our solution was to move to one of our apartment complex's sister properties. It was a very similar community with only a $30 increase in rent, and we didn't have to pay any penalties. Since our rent was going to the same company, they didn't care where we lived as long as they received the cash for which we had been contractually obligated.
Moving Within the Same Apartment Complex
This, in my opinion, is a great way to avoid breaking an apartment lease. Since then, I've done it once more, though within the same property. We outgrew our two-bedroom unit, and our landlord allowed us to move into a three-bedroom apartment with no penalties. We got a new place to live in the middle, rather than at the end, of our lease.
Researching Sister Properties
It's easy to learn whether one's apartment community is part of a larger network, though this option was never advertised by our landlord. We simply pulled out our lease, which had the property management company's logo at the top. Online, we were able to find the company's web site and a listing of their properties, one of which was only a mile down the road from my father-in-law's house.
The only complication was that our landlord at the first apartment complex didn't realize we could move to a different property under the same umbrella. We had to call the property management company and speak to a representative there, who confirmed that such a transfer was indeed acceptable. From there, we only had to sign the new lease and move our stuff.
This is a much easier method of breaking an apartment lease than finding a way to prove a constructive eviction, and it is certainly cheaper than paying whatever buy-out fee is attached to the lease.