How Do I Release a Rental Agreement?

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Sometimes, it is necessary to terminate a house or apartment’s lease before the lease term expires. There are many reasons why this may be necessary – the tenant may be an active military member called to deploy, a natural disaster might render the home uninhabitable or the tenant might face personal circumstances that make it impossible to remain in the unit. As a landlord, granting a release from a rental agreement without penalizing the tenant is required under certain circumstances and optional in others.

Release vs. Eviction

Releasing a tenant from his rental agreement is not the same as evicting the tenant. The release from rental agreement process is a mutual agreement between the tenant and the landlord that the tenant is choosing to terminate his lease early or that the lease has to be terminated due to reasons beyond either party’s control; a release from a rental agreement does not mean that the tenant somehow failed to abide by the terms of his lease.

Assess the Situation

For a landlord, the way to handle a release from a rental agreement largely depends on the situation and the state in which the rental is located. In many states, laws exist to protect tenants from legal repercussions and liability for an uncompleted lease’s rent when they must leave their units due to issues like domestic violence and a unit's uninhabitability.

Landlords should know the applicable state laws and comply with them; a landlord may be required to release a tenant without penalizing her. Further, even if the move-out is not protected by law, a landlord may be required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit before charging the tenant for unpaid rent.

If the tenant needs to evacuate her rental for military deployment, the landlord may not assess a penalty for breaking the lease if the tenant signed the lease before entering active duty and will be on active duty for at least the next 90 days, and she provides the landlord with written notice of her intent to break the lease and a copy of her military orders at least 30 days before leaving the unit.

If a landlord determines that the tenant’s reason to break her lease is protected by law, he must move forward with providing a tenant move-out form. Otherwise, he must follow the terms regarding early termination in the lease. Nearly all leases contain some type of early termination clause, such as the requirement that the tenant notify the landlord of the termination in writing 30 to 60 days prior to moving out.

Download a Rental Release Form

Landlords can download a rental release form from a reputable online resource for legal forms or can contact HUD for resources.

A rental release form is not the same as a tenant move-out form. While a rental release form acknowledges that the tenant and the landlord agree to terminate the lease before its expiration date, a tenant move-out form is a document both parties sign attesting to the condition of the unit at the time of the tenant’s departure.

Provide All Relevant Information

The rental release form should contain all relevant, up-to-date information about the lease and the unit, such as:

  • The original lease term.
  • The date the lease is being terminated.
  • The reason for terminating the lease.
  • The total security deposit for the unit.
  • The amount, if any, of the security deposit the landlord is retaining.
  • Any outstanding rent the tenant owes the landlord.

File the Rental Release Form

After the rental release form and tenant move-out forms are signed and dated, the landlord should make copies of them for her own files, as well as give a copy to the tenant. These documents could be necessary in the future, either when providing a landlord reference for the tenant or if the landlord faces legal actions related to the lease and its termination.