Do you want to break your lease? How to do it right.

A lawyer weighs in. Ideally, your lease agreement will have an early termination policy.

Tearing up a contract in half.
Renters who break their lease without a early termination policy must pay the rent until a new tenant is found or the lease ends. Adobe Stock

For many renters signing a lease, they do so with the intention to stay for the duration of the agreement. 

But life happens, and there may be a reason you need to move out early. Rather than simply telling your landlord you are moving out, the renter should go about it in the right way.  It is important that you break your lease properly to ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved.

We asked Eric Nadeau of the law firm Dalton & Finegold for tips on how to break a lease. Nadeau is a partner specializing in litigation and mainly represents large, institutional landlords.


Tenants may want or need to break a lease for a variety of reasons, he said, including getting a new job, health issues, or familial concerns. Also, “People will complain about conditions, whether it be rodents or if it’s a water leak or heating issues,” he said, “and if they don’t feel like the landlord is addressing it quickly enough, they will seek to break their lease to find alternative housing that is suitable for them.”

Notify the landlord properly

It is important to give proper notice before leaving the lease. According to Nadeau, he requires that tenants give a 60-day notice to give adequate time to find and prepare for a new tenant. This gives the landlord adequate time to find another tenant. Even better is when the tenant knows someone who can take their place.

If tenants are thinking about moving out early, it is important to speak with their landlord to discuss their options as early as possible.

If a tenant waits to talk with their landlord until they find a new place to live, they could find themselves paying for more rent than they bargained for.

Discuss the terms before you sign

Nadeau strongly suggested that before you sign a lease that you discuss the landlord’s early termination policy. Even if the tenant never intends to break the lease, having the option to leave early can eliminate extra costs and issues with the landlord. 


“Whatever the circumstances are, most landlords are pretty reasonable. But having that clause in the lease upfront requires the landlord to offer you this option to leave,” Nadeau said. 

With many of his clients, Nadeau includes a clause that requires 60 days’ notice and the payment of two months’ rent. This is to cover the revenue landlords will lose while they look for a new tenant. 

“The whole point is to make the landlord whole while providing some flexibility with the tenants as well,” Nadeau said.

Understand the financial implications

If there isn’t a termination clause in place, the tenant will have to pay the rent until a new one moves into the unit or the lease ends, whichever comes first.

Providing early notice that you are breaking the lease can be crucial in limiting the financial burden. Replacing a tenant can be a long process. Nadeau emphasized that having an early-termination policy can help a renter avoid any of the financial complications.

What if the lease you want to sign doesn’t have one?

“A prospective tenant may request an early termination clause be included in the lease package during the initial discussions with the landlord,” Nadeau said. “I do not believe landlords would be receptive to this request after the commencement of the lease term.”


But is this wise given the competitive market?

“It depends since doing so will very likely give the landlord concern that the tenant is not intending to honor the entire term of the lease,” Nadeau said.

It’s important to know that state law allows tenants to break a lease if they are a victim of alleged domestic violence. “Importantly, this only applies to the specific tenant facing the alleged domestic violence, such that other tenants on the lease would remain responsible for the rent for the remainder of the lease term (unless they were also subjected to the alleged domestic violence),” he said.

What about the security deposit? Does the tenant get that back?

“Like most questions involving the law, it depends,” Nadeau said. “If the early termination is by agreement of the parties, then the tenant would very likely receive their security deposit back in full provided that they provide the required notice and payment of early termination charges as there would not be any unpaid rent in that case. That said, if the tenant breaks a lease early without the permission/agreement of the landlord, then the landlord is entitled to apply the security deposit to any unpaid rent.”

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