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How to Get Out of a Lease

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Can a Tenant Cancel a Lease?

A lease is a legally binding document that spells out the terms under which one person can use another person’s property for a specified period of times. Leases can be residential or commercial. Residential leases are for homes and apartments, places where people reside, and commercial leases are leases for places of business.

Because a lease is a legally binding document, a tenant generally can’t cancel a lease. Often a landlord will release a tenant from a lease, especially when the tenant can find another suitable tenant to replace him or her. There are also some legal conditions under which a tenant can claim a lease is no longer valid: for instance, if the place is uninhabitable, if the apartment violates health and safety codes, or if the lease itself was illegal. 

If a person is experiencing domestic violence and must break the lease in order to escape the violence, this is a legally acceptable reason for breaking the lease as well.

Can a Landlord Cancel a Lease?

A landlord is bound by the terms of a lease in the same way the tenant is. If the lease is legally valid, and both parties follow the terms of the lease, the lease remains valid. If the tenant violates the terms, the landlord can seek to have the tenant removed.

If both parties have agreed to terminate the lease, if the lease is illegal, or if the lease is “month-to-month,” or “at-will,” the landlord can terminate the lease.

What Is the Penalty for Canceling a Lease?

For both landlords and tenants, there are repercussions for violating the terms of a lease. A tenant who breaks a lease can still be found liable to pay the landlord back the rest of the money dictated by the least. A landlord can use the security deposit to cover part of the costs, but this is often not sufficient, and the former tenant will still owe more money.

Sometimes, landlords and tenants can work out these details in mediation and settle on an agreed amount, but often these cases end up in small claims court. If a judge believes a tenant owes a landlord money for the lease terms, the tenant will have to pay the resulting judgment.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Yes. Landlord tenant law is extremely complicated and a landlord tenant lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of your case.

Photo of page author Danielle Winterton

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-13-2016 09:36 AM PDT

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