Sometimes a tenant will desire to move out of the property during the term of the lease. When the tenant does not have a right to terminate the lease, but decides to vacate the property regardless, the tenant “breaks” the lease. Breaking the lease is usually a bad choice. Breaking the lease can expose the tenant to significant financial liability and looks bad on the tenant’s rental history. If the tenant has the right to terminate the lease, the tenant should do so; otherwise the tenant should try to negotiate a Mutual Termination with the landlord. For more information about some of the circumstances which might give a tenant the right to terminate the lease, see 14-Day/30-Day Notice to the Landlord, Access, and Fire and Casualty Damage.
Breaking the lease can be expensive for the tenant. The landlord can hold the tenant responsible for the damages the landlord suffers because the tenant is not completing the lease. These damages include the rent that is due under the lease that the landlord does not collect from a new tenant and the landlord’s expenses to advertise the property for rent. The tenant is still bound by the promise to pay rent even though the tenant has left the property. This means that, if the landlord is unable to rent the property to someone else, the tenant is still responsible to pay the whole rent for the rest of the lease term. The landlord has a duty to try to find a replacement tenant, but the tenant should not assume that the landlord will be able to do so immediately.
If the tenant wants to move out during the term of the lease, the tenant should first check the lease to see if it contains an early termination option. Some leases provide that the tenant can end the lease early by paying a certain fee – this fee varies from lease to lease. If the lease does not provide an early termination option, or if that fee is too much, the tenant may approach the landlord to negotiate a mutual termination.