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Suppose I sign a one year lease for an apartment or a house and pay a security deposit for the same amount as a month's rent. If I move out before the lease ends I know that my security deposit will not be returned. What are the other possible consequences?

More specifically, I was told that the landlord can sue the tenant who is leaving early because the security deposit is only one month's rent and a tenant leaving can cost them several months. Is this common?

How can the problem of early moving be solved gracefully?

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The security deposit is to protect the owner against physical damage to the unit, it is not to be used as the last months rent. Many renters think that they can skip that last payment. –  mhoran_psprep Aug 5 '12 at 22:57
    
Many states/cities have a guide to landlord tenant law that discusses these issues in plain language. –  mhoran_psprep Aug 5 '12 at 22:58
    
@mhoran_psprep: Does a landlord need to pay interest on security deposit to his tenant when return the deposit? (in Maryland) –  Tim Aug 5 '12 at 22:59
    
In Virginia I had to pay interest if the deposit was held for more than 12 months, the state dictated the interest rate, I believe it was based on some bond rate. It should be covered in the state guide. –  mhoran_psprep Aug 5 '12 at 23:14

2 Answers 2

Legally speaking, you are responsible for the entire lease. So, if you have five months left on the lease, you are responsible for paying the rent for each of the five months. On the other hand, the security deposit must be returned to you upon completed payment of the entire lease, provided there's no damage.

In most cases, you are only responsible for paying the lease until the landlord can find someone else to move in. Indeed, this may actually be a legal requirement, and if you can show that the landlord refused to rent after you had moved out and informed the landlord that you had moved out, you will likely not be responsible for the rent going forward. That is, if you move out with five months left and someone else calls the landlord and tries to move in, a month later, you will only be responsible for one month of rent. Note that you may have to sue, however, and would have to offer proof that the landlord refused to rent the empty apartment.

The best course of action is to talk to your landlord and see if you can terminate the lease early. Depending on the rental situation, the landlord may be willing to do this with sufficient notice and perhaps payment of a month or two of rent.

If you decide to simply skip out on your lease, the landlord will, in most cases, not bother actively trying to get the remainder of the lease payment from you, but will most likely put a valid black mark on your credit report if you abandon your lease and refuse to pay your obligation.

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+1 for "talk to your landlord" The OP should read the lease agreement too. In some areas with transient populations such as military personnel, government employees likely to be transferred elsewhere at short notice etc., leases allow for early termination, usually with one month's rent being asked for from the date that the renter gives notice of intention to vacate early. In some cases, the landlord will forgive the rent beyond date of vacating the apartment if the apartment can be shown to prospective tenants before it is vacated. –  Dilip Sarwate Jul 27 '12 at 14:41
    
In Illinois and I think elsewhere your landlord could get someone to move in, they could not pay the rent and the original lessor would still be on the hook for the rent for that period where the other tenant was living in the apartment but failing to pay rent. –  user4127 Jul 27 '12 at 17:25
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The ability to leave a lease early without penalty usually takes official military orders, either a change of station or a deployment. It does not apply to somebody quitting a job and wanting to move to another city. –  mhoran_psprep Aug 5 '12 at 22:55
    
This will vary by state -- so that Tennessee could be different from California or Florida or New York -- but I agree with others to read the lease and talk to your landlord to see what they propose. Talking to a lawyer or a charitable legal aid clinic (if you can't afford to pay a lawyer $100 or so for a consultation) may be helpful. If you do this before you talk to the landlord, you will better know your rights and obligations and his as well. However, your landlord might be very reasonable, and you might not need a lawyer. Your landlord surely has had people move out early in the past. –  Paul Sep 1 '12 at 1:15

ChrisInEdmonton's answer is correct, but leaves out a few things. Depending on the jurisdiction, lease contracts are required to provide an "out" for the tenant. Basically, you pay a penalty, usually one to two months' additional rent, plus the cost the landlord must now assume in advertising and office paperwork to re-lease the space, and the lease contract is satisfied. No negotiations required.

This is in addition to the two courses of action ChrisInEdmonton's answer provides; you can continue to pay the rent as if you still lived there (if you were only moving out a month or two early, this would make the most sense), or you can find someone willing to take over the remaining months of the lease (the landlord can only sue when you have caused them "damages"; if someone moves in the day after you move out and keeps paying as if they were you, there are no damages). If you choose the latter option, I would take the new tenant to the landlord and have everyone fill out a "transfer agreement", where the listed tenant of the space is changed, thus relieving you of personal liability. The landlord may try and charge you a small fee, like $30-$50; whether you want to fight him on that is your call, but depending on the jurisdiction it's perfectly legal for him to do so.

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