Yep, Ann and I are big bad landlords. I like to think we're on the nice end of the landlord spectrum, but we also have to do right by ourselves. For example, it requires (sometimes very significant) time and/or money to find new tenants. In the case of early lease breaks, this means several searches in the course of the year, which is a huge drain. Since we don't live on the premises (or even in the same state) it's even harder to find a replacement.
That said, lease breaks are not the end of the world in the vast majority of situations. Every landlord will react differently to the news, and rental markets vary, but know you're not the first person with changed circumstances. Here's what you can expect:
• Even if you leave early, you are responsible for the remainder of the rent for the duration of the lease, or until the unit is rented to someone else, whichever comes first. If it rents for less than the current rent, you might be responsible for the difference.
• You are responsible for costs associated with renting to new tenants. If a realtor becomes involved, you will most likely be charged the rental fee. Depending on the rental market, this can be a full month's rent.
• Don't expect to run out and get a random person to take over your lease for the last couple of months. Many landlords (ourselves included) don't allow subletting. In our case, any new tenants must go through the same vetting process that you did, and sign a new lease for at least a year.
• We've heard of some landlords charging early termination administrative fees. Hopefully you were aware of them when you signed the lease.
• Know that landlords are not allowed to keep charging you rent if they re-rent the apartment.
• Tenant rights and responsibilities vary per state, so if you are unsure of anything, or suspect your landlord is doing something fishy, then consult a lawyer. Hopefully you have a close friend who practices contract law.
Here are a few things you can do to ease your way:
• Re-read your lease for any information about early lease breaks.
• Don't do something dumb like skip out in the middle of the night. This can affect your credit history and make it hard to rent a place, or buy a house, down the line.
• As soon as you know a lease break might be coming, call or go see your landlord and tell them upfront what's going on. Not only will you find out exactly what's expected of you, we as landlords can now start keeping our eyes and ears open for potential new tenants.
• Talk to your friends and see if anyone knows anyone needing an apartment asap. As landlords, we love tenants who bring us word-of-mouth rentals. They are often the quickest and easiest way to get a place rented with no fuss or bother for either party.
• Offer to show the apartment yourself. We keep a listing description ready for each apartment, and will happily post it on Craigslist for you, as long as you are available to show it. At some point we'll want to chat with any prospective tenants, and do a background check, but the hard part of finding someone is over.
• Spruce up your apartment and keep it neat for all showings. Duh.
• Some landlords offer a one-time fee that relieves you of all liability described above. If the rental market is slow, and you're worried that it won't rent anytime soon, this might be a good option. If you do choose to go this route, get everything in writing.
(Image: Dabney Frake)