Can You Back Out of a Lease After Signing?

Feb 26th 2024
If you just signed a lease and want to back out, you can often get out of it by talking to your landlord. Depending on the state laws, you may need a valid reason or be willing to pay an early termination fee. But your best chance of walking away with minimal repercussions is to contact the landlord directly and discuss your options.

hash-markHow to Get Out of a Lease Before Moving In

1. Have a Valid Reason to Back out of the Lease

A lease is a legally binding contract, so once you’ve signed on the dotted line, you are obligated to pay rent for the term, or you could be sued. However, there are a few situations where you can legally back out of a lease and face no adverse consequences.

Examples of valid reasons for backing out of a lease

  1. Starting Active Military Duty: Federal law allows military personnel to terminate a lease early if they’re part of the uniformed services and must relocate to enter active duty.
  2. Domestic Violence: You can legally terminate a lease if you or your child is the victim of domestic violence or stalking and have a court order of protection.
  3. Uninhabitable Unit: The landlord is responsible for maintaining a safe, habitable environment; if they fail, you can terminate the lease. An example could be refusing to fix a leak that eventually floods the apartment.
  4. Privacy Violations: The landlord is also responsible for respecting your privacy, and you can terminate the lease if they do not. For instance, if they often let themselves into the apartment without giving you prior notice.

2. Read Through Your Lease Carefully

You have other options if you don’t have a legally valid reason but still want out of a lease. First, read the terms carefully and see if it has an early termination clause. Some landlords expect tenants to occasionally end their lease early and will include a clause in the contract that states the process for early termination. Not all leases have this clause, and you may need to pay a fee or satisfy other conditions before walking away. But it’s usually much less painless than having to go to court.

3. Find a New Tenant

Another option to get out of your lease early is to find a new tenant willing to move into the apartment once you leave. Most landlords don’t care who lives in the unit as long as someone is paying the rent. So, if you present them with a new paying tenant with the credit and income to qualify for the apartment, the landlord may be more open to letting you walk away without penalty. Even if they don’t let you break the lease, you could always sublet your apartment to the new tenant until the end of the lease term, so you don’t have to pay the rent on your own.

4. Settle with the Landlord

If all else fails, you can try to reach a settlement with the landlord. Technically, they could sue you for all the rent payments they would miss due to you leaving early. But going to court can be expensive and time-consuming, so the landlord may be willing to meet you halfway. You could offer to pay two to three months of rent before you leave to give them time to find another paying tenant. How much you’ll need to offer will depend on how long you have left on the contract and how quickly they can find someone to replace you. However, settling for an amount in the middle is usually less expensive and difficult than taking the issue to court.

5. Put it in Writing

Once you’ve come to an agreement with the landlord, you’ll want to make sure to state in writing that you plan on ending the lease early. Even if you have a verbal agreement, they could potentially sue you later down the line if they change their mind and have more trouble renting the unit than expected. So, you’ll want to submit an early lease termination letter to confirm that you are leaving and when you plan to vacate. The letter should also state your reason for leaving and whether you intend to relinquish your security deposit or want it back.

hash-markWill You Get Your Deposit Back if You Back Out of a Lease?

It depends on your reason for leaving. If you have a legally valid reason for breaking the lease, you can get your security deposit back. However, if you’re backing out for personal reasons, it depends on what you negotiate with the landlord. If you break your lease early, the landlord can keep your deposit to cover some of the missed rent.

If you choose the buyout option and break the lease through an early termination clause or by paying some of the future rent, it may be easier to let them keep the deposit to cover some or all of the costs. However, if you work things out amicably and find a new tenant, they may be willing to refund it as usual. 

hash-markBacking Out of a Lease Signing Bottom Line

A lease is a legally binding contract, so you should know the risks and responsibilities it brings before you sign. However, there may be situations where you don’t have an option and must break the lease early. In that case, contact the landlord as soon as possible and try your best to work out a deal that makes sense for everyone.