Can I break my lease if I lose my job?

TLDR:  

You can always break your lease, but you risk financial penalties and a ding on your rental history that could negatively impact your ability to rent in the future.

Full Question and Answer

Renter's Question

It’s common knowledge that the company I work for hasn’t been doing that well, and they’ve been doing some reorganization. Last week they brought in these consultants—you know, like the Bobs from Office Space. I’ve not met with them yet, but the whole thing has us all worried that we’re on the chopping block, and if I lose this job there’s no way I’ll be able to pay my rent. If they do let me go, it’s not like it would be my fault. Is there some way for me to get out of my lease?


RadPad's Answer

Technically speaking, you can always break your lease… but just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. What you really want to know is if you can get out of the lease without having to pay penalties or multiple months of rent, and the answer is typically no. Just as you depend on your job for income, your landlord depends on your rent for income. And if you leave him in the lurch, you’ll be the one that pays—not him. Your landlord could even sue you for the rest of the rent due under your lease, and he’ll probably win. That judgment against you will follow you for years, hurting your credit score and making it hard for you to rent from someone else. You don’t want that. None of it.

You’re doing well by thinking ahead. You haven’t lost your job yet, but you can see the writing on the wall (and we’ve all seen Office Space 50 times). Obviously you’re hunting around for another job just in case, but in the meantime, go ahead and talk to your landlord. Let him know what’s going down and then keep him updated. If you have a good relationship and he’s a nice, friendly guy, you may be able to get him to cut you a break if the worst-case scenario does come to pass. Or perhaps he’d be willing to let you sublease the apartment. But even if you don’t know him very well and the only time he even looks at you is when rent is due, he’ll still appreciate that you’re being proactive and trying to take care of your responsibilities.

Go ahead and pull out that lease and wade through the legalese as well. Buried somewhere in there may be some sort of early-termination clause. A lot of landlords aren’t going to bother to point that out to you, because they don’t actually want you to leave early. If your lease has one, though, it will spell out the circumstances where it’s applicable, how far in advance you need to let your landlord know about it, what the procedures are, and how much you’ll owe and when. Usually, cutting out early means you’re going to forfeit your deposit—but given you’re potentially on the hook for a lot more and risk having a court judgment hanging like a noose around your neck, it’s definitely the lesser of two evils.

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Sources

http://www.moneycrashers.com/breaking-apartment-lease-agreement/

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