How to Dissolve a Rental Agreement

By Kimberly Dedes
Dissolving a rental agreement is not as simple as handing over your keys.

The girl gives someone keys from an apartment image by Andrey Andreev from Fotolia.com

A rental agreement or lease, for all intents and purposes, is legally binding. When a tenant breaks a lease, the law is almost always on the side of the property management or owner, so it is essential to know how to approach this potentially difficult situation.

Review your rental agreement. Many leases have early-release clauses. A majority of clauses make two stipulations: You can pay a given sum to dissolve the agreement; or in the event of agreement termination, you will owe one or two months of extra rent, or must make payments until a new tenant is found, whichever occurs first. In addition, if the state permits, you may also forfeit your security deposit. If no clause is offered, perhaps you and the property owner can come to an amicable settlement. Since lease guidelines vary by state, familiarize yourself with your state's laws.

Search for a reason to break your rental agreement, if necessary. Some states allow members of the military to "break" rental agreements without negative repercussions. Lack of certain amenities is possible grounds, if they were mentioned in the lease, but not provided. For example, if your lease promises free Internet or gym access you don't receive, it's possible to use this during negotiations with your landlord. If your lease does not contain such amenities, examine the living situation. A landlord is required to provide safe and sanitary conditions. Mold or bug infestation can mean the property owner is liable for fines from the local housing authority. It could also be grounds for you to sue, which is handy leverage when attempting to dissolve the agreement.

Talk to your landlord. Be honest about the situation to determine your options. The property may have no flaws, but perhaps you were offered a promotion that requires you to move, or you may have recently become unemployed. Whatever the case, you're dealing with actual people, so the more courtesy and respect you show, the more you can expect to receive. Offer options. Find someone to take over the remainder of your lease (pending the property owner's approval) or offer to pay the agreement until the dwelling is no longer vacant.

Avoid hasty actions. Remember what is in everyone's best interests. You want to dissolve the agreement and the property owner wants to receive the compensation provided for in the contract. The owner does not want to see you abandon the property, nor await eviction because both mean lost revenue. Likewise, failure to fulfill a rental agreement can negatively impact your credit score and make it difficult to obtain approval for another property.

Pay as required. Failure to uphold your obligation could result in hefty penalties. In most states, landlords are not required to negotiate terms not covered in the original lease or subsequent written amendments. Thus, consider what is most cost-effective in the long run. If you have two months left on a rental agreement and paying $700 per month, the $1,400 in rent may cost less than breaking the lease (either provided in the contract or determined during negotiations).

Talk to an attorney or local tenant's rights organization if your property manager is not open to negotiations or compromise. Consequently, you could end up paying more than necessary for various late fees or breaches of contract.

About the Author

Based in Phoenix, Kimberly Dedes began writing professionally in 2000. She worked in the breaking news and sports departments of "The Arizona Republic," contributing to print and online publications. She was also associate editor of "The Moon Valley Tattler," a local newspaper. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.

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