Moving out before your lease ends

When you have a lease, you’ve agreed to stay put until it expires. But what if you need to end — or "terminate" — the lease early? You have a few options.

If you cannot pay your rent or are behind on rent, contact your local Community Action Agency as soon as possible. They may have rental assistance available.

This page was last updated on 9.23.21.

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Understanding the Basics

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It's important to know your rights and responsibilities when you need to end or terminate your lease early, whether you have to move or can’t afford to pay your rent. Take action to save time and money.

How do I tell my landlord I want to end the lease?

Tell your landlord in writing when you want to end your lease, no matter what kind of lease you have, and even if you never signed a lease.

Give your landlord as much notice as you can. When you must give that notice depends on the type of lease you have:

  • Month-to-month lease: Give your landlord notice in writing at least 30 days before you want the lease to end. It should be a full 30 days before the next rent payment would be due. For example, if you usually pay rent on the first of each month, and you give your landlord notice on Oct. 15, you still should pay rent for the month of November, but the lease would end by Dec. 1. 
  • Week-to-week lease: Give your landlord notice in writing at least 7 days before you want the lease to end. It should be a full 7 days before the rent payment would be due.
  • Oral or verbal lease: Give your landlord notice in writing based on the type of lease you have and how often you make rent payments. For example, if you have a month-to-month lease, you can end it by giving your landlord notice at least 30 days before you want the lease to end. Let your landlord know in writing when you want the lease to end, even if you don’t have a written lease. Check with your landlord or rental office to find out if there’s a form you should use.
  • Written lease with an end date: Read your lease agreement carefully to understand how much notice you must give. Even if your lease already has a set end date, you may need to give your landlord written notice a few weeks or months before you move out.

If you don’t tell your landlord in enough time, you could have to pay rent beyond the time you live there. For example, if you have a month-to-month lease and you don’t give enough notice, you might have to pay an extra month’s rent. Your landlord can’t charge you rent forever, though.

When you’re giving your landlord written notice that you want to end the lease, it might be enough to text or email your landlord, but it’s a good idea to follow up your message with a letter.

If you are mailing a letter and it’s close to the time your notice is due, deliver the letter in person. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

For more on what you need to do before leaving your rental, see the moving out checklist.

Can I break my lease and not pay?

Usually no. In most cases, if you break your lease or move out early, you’re breaking the agreement between you and your landlord. You’ll probably be responsible for paying rent until the lease expires or until the landlord rents to someone else.

In Ohio, landlords must try to rent to someone else as soon as possible to reduce their losses, so if you have to move out before your lease is up, let your landlord know as soon as you can. That will give your landlord more time to find a new tenant. You also could try to help your landlord find a new tenant.

If your landlord is able to re-rent quickly, you still may have to pay some costs, like rent for the time the apartment was empty, re-rental fees or costs for damage you caused, but those costs could be less than what you would owe if you had to pay for the rest of the lease.

There are a few situations that give tenants the right to break a lease with no penalty:

  • Active-duty military service. If you are called to active-duty military service, you may be able to end your lease early without consequences under a law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Learn more about your rights under the SCRA and use this template to write a letter to your landlord to end your lease. Your local military legal assistance office also may be able to help you understand your rights under the law.
  • Serious material problems affecting health and safety. If there are serious material problems with your home, like no heat, and the landlord isn’t fixing them after you have given proper notice, you may have the right to end your lease. But if the problems are serious enough for you to think about leaving, get legal help. Your local legal aid office may be able to assist.

How much does it cost to break a lease?

Look for an early termination clause, or a section of your lease that tells you what would happen if you end your lease early.

If you have a written lease, it might tell you how much it would cost you to end the lease early. It could be a lot.

Although you may have a good reason for wanting to break the lease, like not being able to afford the rent or getting a job in a new city, you’ll usually be responsible for unpaid rent until the end of your lease term.

Can I work with my landlord to pay less?

Landlords usually want to keep tenants in place, so try to find a solution that works for both of you.

For example, find out if you can:

  • Reach a settlement or “buyout” agreement. To end the lease early, you might agree to give up, or forfeit, your security deposit and pay an extra month’s rent. You’re agreeing to pay more in exchange for your landlord agreeing to accept less than the full amount of rent you owe.
  • “Sublet” the rental unit. Ask if your landlord will let you find another person to take over your lease and pay the rent instead. Get your landlord's permission in writing before doing this. Please note, if the person you find to sublet does not pay the rent on time, your landlord can still come after you for the money.

Get any buyout agreement in writing. Make sure it’s signed by both you and your landlord. You should get a written statement from your landlord that in return for your payment, the lease will end, or terminate, and you will not owe any more rent.

Learn more about negotiating with your landlord.

Will I ruin my credit or go to jail if I break a lease?

Breaking a lease can be costly, and it could eventually affect your credit or your ability to rent in the future, but you can’t go to jail simply for breaking a lease.

If you move out before your lease ends, the landlord may issue late fees or other penalties. If you don’t pay everything you owe, the landlord may take you to court to try to get you to pay, or debt collectors could start to contact you.

If you pay everything you owe when you leave, then ending your lease early should not affect your credit.

Can I get my security deposit back?

Whether or not you have a right to get your security deposit back depends on the condition you left the unit and whether or not you still owe money to the landlord.

If you properly ended your month-to-month lease, you have a right to get your security deposit back within 30 days, although the landlord could keep some of the money to cover damage beyond normal wear and tear.

If you ended the lease “wrongfully” and you owe rent to the landlord, your landlord could use your security deposit to cover any rent you owe.

If you think you have the right to get your security deposit back, give your landlord a forwarding address in writing.

Learn more about getting your security deposit back.


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