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How to break your lease and avoid landlord conflict

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

Breaking an apartment lease isn’t an ideal situation, but in order to avoid conflicts with your landlord, you need to navigate it properly, according to Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats.

“There’s no easy solution to breaking your lease. While you want to save money, of course the landlord doesn’t want to lose money,” he says.

While it’s not uncommon to break your lease—whether it’s because you need to move to a new place for a new job or have a change in personal circumstances—Malin says you need to be aware that a lease is a legal document and you’re legally obligated to fulfill those terms.

“If you break your lease early, you are obligated to pay all the remaining term of the lease, whether it’s one month, six months or nine months,” he says.

You also may lose your security deposit if you back out early.

“The question about getting your security back really depends on the quality of the apartment when you left,” he says. “Was there any damage, was it beyond regular wear and tear? Those are standard costs an owner would recoup when you vacated the apartment.”

If you decide to abandon the lease without paying your rent, a landlord is within his or her rights to bring legal action against you, something Malin says can be easily avoided by opening the lines of communication as soon as possible.

“It’s very important to be upfront with the owner—reach out to them and give them as much advance notice as possible. [Then] explain your personal circumstances and why you need to leave,” he says.

Knowing your options and working together will help both sides comes to an agreement that works for everyone, Malin says.

“You can’t just walk out the door and expect that the owners are simply going to accept that,” he says. “If you come to them with a proactive approach and you’re coming to them saying, ‘How can we work together to make this work’, you’re more likely than not going to come out with a better solution.”

Malin also recommends knowing when to leave your lease: for example, August is better because it’s a busy time of year and it’s typically easier for landlords to fill the vacancy.

“People break their leases all the time,” Malin says. “It’s just a matter of do they do it in a way that’s conducive to their future or detrimental to their future,” he says.

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