You may have to pay if you break your lease.
People often wonder whether or not they can break their lease. The short answer is yes. A lease is a contract, and thousands of contracts are broken every day. The better question to ask is what the result will be if you break your lease.
In general, if you break your lease your landlord has a right to go to court to seek its enforcement. If he wins, the court can order you to continue to pay rent, even if you live somewhere else. You may also be required to pay your landlord's court costs and attorney fees.
However, your landlord has a responsibility to mitigate, or lessen, the damages he suffers. That generally means that he can't just let the property stand vacant and expect you to pay the rent. He must advertise the property and make it available to others. Once he leases the property to another, your legal responsibilities end.
But keep in mind that the landlord has a right to recover the costs associated with finding a new tenant from you. And your landlord isn't required to rent the property to the first warm body that comes along, although he can't be unreasonable in rejecting prospective tenants. So if the rental market is slow, it may be months before a suitable new tenant is located, so you can still be obligated for rent during that whole period of time.
If you think you may need to break a lease because of a possible job transfer, it's best to let your landlord know about this as soon as possible, even before you sign your lease. Some landlords will allow you to lease for a shorter period of time, while others may allow you to break the lease by giving advance notice of 30 or 60 days. Your landlord may also agree to let you out of your lease early in return for a penalty payment. If the landlord won't agree to these concessions, however, you may have to explore other alternatives, such as subletting the property, or pay the price for leaving before your lease expires.
Of course, it may be possible to break a lease without suffering any penalty when the landlord fails to provide adequate maintenance and the property becomes unsafe or unfit for humans to live in. In these cases, tenants may argue that the landlord's neglect amounts to "constructive eviction," claiming that the landlord has deprived them of the benefit of their bargain. Things have to be extremely bad before this argument will succeed, however. Just because the property is unpleasant to live in, or because you've suffered an inconvenience, such as a stove that the landlord keeps having to fix, isn't enough to support a claim of constructive eviction.
Copyright 1999 ProSe Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.
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