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Well, since September, I have been renting out a room so I could commute to my university. I signed a lease stating that I would be renting out this room until May 2011.

Out of nowhere, space in the dorms opened up and was offered to me... and I have less than a week to decide if I will accept the offer, and if not, they will offer that space to somebody else.

I believe that normally, past the first quarter of a semester, they will save spaces for students who are on a lease, but this semester is just now starting and they are in the process of accepting/declining those who have applied.

Anyway, I'm considering breaking my lease because the application process for dorming at my university is rather painful in terms of waiting times (they're overflowing with people, so space is limited).

What downsides are there? Do I lose all of my deposits (last months's + security)? I've paid the January rent and would not be staying for February, so would I get last month's back, at least? What about my security deposit? Because I've done no damage to the room, and even if he is cheap and nitpicks about things that were not my fault, there is no way that it would justify [my-deposit-amount]'s worth of repairs.

Or does it all just depend on the person renting the place out? (FWIW my landlord is a very cheap man)

I'm really frustrated by this extremely sudden turn of events. Any information would be appreciated.

  • Local law may (or may not) permit you to break a residential lease under certain conditions (e.g. 30 day's notice), any language in the lease notwithstanding. It's worth checking out, anyway. – user296 Jan 26 '11 at 2:30
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Leases typicially don't allow you to terminate early, especially in leases for students who tend to flake out and break contracts frequently. You're also leaving in the middle of the school year, which means the landlord is going to be stuck with an empty room.

If I were the landlord, I would say no and sue if you stopped paying.

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  • This might be a bit of a strange answer to accept, but reading the answers given here along with other sources, I've decided that the legal risks and deposit losses aren't worth moving into the school. I've instead opted to debate the residency issues with the school staff. Worst case scenario, I can always apply again next year. It'll be a major pain again, but at least I won't risk going to court. – Corey Jan 29 '11 at 2:22
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Talk to the landlord (in person) and explain your situation, ask what if anything they can do to help you out. You in turn could help them by finding another tenant to take over, for all you know they may have turned away someone recently because the didn't have space.

If that doesn't work your lease should specify what happens if you break the lease, how much you owe.

How much money will this save you, if it's a lot I might ask a lawyer to look at the lease and advise you what options you have, but only after you have tried the first step I mentioned

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Is there ANYTHING in the lease that allows you to break the lease legally, did landlord break any rules? Sometimes you can break a lease with an advance notice (few months). Read the lease.

If not you'll have to negotiate with your landlord, the best thing is to find somebody to take over the place, so the landlord doesn't lose any money. Otherwise I doubt you'll get your last months back, since there is no chance he'll find somebody to rent it starting february 1st. In theory he can probably go after you to court if it's empty for a few months after this. February is really bad time for rentals. I wouldn't even had hopes up for getting the security deposit back.

On the other hand if your lease is way below the market the landlord maybe happy to re-rent at a higher rent now.

As a landlord myself i can tell you it's very frustrating to have an empty investment property

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  • The lease I signed was rather generic: no smoking, no pets, I'm accountable for things I break, etc. English is not his primary language, and it basically looks like a boilerplate template. I doubt that I'd be able to break it based on legal issues. – Corey Jan 25 '11 at 22:07
  • Landlord has to have some obligations, shovel the snow, provide heat, make sure the roof is not leaking... – Vitalik Jan 25 '11 at 22:34
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    Hmm... my room doesn't get any heat. Heat is provided on the floor I live on, but my room specifically does not have a heating vent. Makes it unusually cold in the winter. This is circumvented by leaving the door open or with a space heater. – Corey Jan 25 '11 at 23:48
  • Unless it's below a legal limit it wouldn't fly. Your best bet is to find somebody, i doubt you'll get sued for a small amount but chances for getting your advanced rent and security deposit are tiny. – Vitalik Jan 26 '11 at 1:23
  • Damn. Yeah, other than the heat issue, he might be cheap but he's pretty consistent with shoveling, taking out the trash, dealing with electrical issues, so on and so forth. There's nothing that he's not following or that makes the area unlivable. – Corey Jan 26 '11 at 21:55
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Normally, even the standard template lease agreements are not easy to break unless there has been grave negligence on the part of the land lord, and you can prove that if needed. IMHO, if you really have to leave this rental, your best option of not losing any money in this deal would be to try to find a replacement (sub lease) for you who's willing to take up the lease, provided your land lord agrees with this. If you are not able to find some one to start right from 1 Feb, you could sweeten the pot by being willing to pay half month's rent to whoever is willing to sub lease. The only other way legally would be to convince your land lord somehow to let you break the lease in return for some payment (like giving up your rental deposit)

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Typically, when you break a lease you are responsible for rent through the end of the lease OR until the landlord finds a replacement tenant, whichever comes sooner. A judge or arbiter may cap the amount if they believe the landlord is dragging their feet in finding a tenant, but you're on the hook for at least three months. Assuming you pay the required amount and there is no damage beyond normal wear-and-tear, you do not lose your security deposit (or the interest earned)

Since you are the one who wants to change the contract, the onus is on you to find something amenable. In my experience, if you find an equally-qualified renter willing to sign a brand-new, full-lenth lease, landlords are likely to let you out of the old one. If you find a new renter willing to pay a higher rent, they certainly will. Another option is to negotiate a earlier termination date in exchange for some amount of cash, perhaps 1-2 months worth of rent.

There's nothing wrong with breaking a lease, provided you either pay the money owed or negotiate a different arrangement. It will not affect your credit or your ability to rent in the future.

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