While breaking a lease is something to avoid, as with any binding contract, sometimes circumstances intervene and it becomes unavoidable. I found myself in this very position last year: about three months into a 18-month lease, an opportunity came up across country and we needed out.
Luckily, in this case, our landlord was more than gracious and willing to work with us. They found new tenants within a matter of days and we were off the hook.
Here are a few pieces of advice to make the process a bit easier:
1. Know the renters rights in your city: While technically a lease means that you are responsible for the full amount of the rent for the agreed upon period, most places require that the landlord actively try to fill the space with a suitable replacement once the previous tenant has left.
2. Reread your lease: Most leases will have a paragraph addressing how to deal with a broken lease. In some cases there is a flat fee you can pay to be released from it, while others require you to pay any cost incurred in filling the space (realtors fees, etc.). Know the terms of your individual lease before broaching the topic with your landlord.
3. Consider a subletter: In some cases your landlord or leasing company will permit you to sublet your apartment for the remainder of your existing lease. You do take on more personal risk in this situation, as you may be responsible for any damage they cause. But it can be a good solution, especially for shorter time periods.
4. Give as much advance notice as possible: While it can be tempting to procrastinate dealing with the stress of breaking a lease, the more notice given means the better the chances of your landlord filling the space before any additional cost is incurred.
5. Be flexible, proactive, and willing to take responsibility: At the end of the day, you are responsible for upholding your end of the agreement and to be flexible when it comes to resolving the situation. In our case we offered to hire a realtor to fill the apartment, if needed, and kept the place clean and ready to show at a moments notice.