Real Estate

Ending a Residential Lease

By Marcia Stewart, Co-Author of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home and Every Landlord's Legal Guide
It’s usually more difficult for a landlord (or a tenant) to end a fixed-term lease. Here are some issues to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Most people have rented a house or an apartment at some point in their lives. While it is fairly straightforward to get into a rental lease, it can be more challenging if a tenant (or a landlord) wants to get out of one—particularly if it’s a long-term lease.

How Fixed-Term Leases End

Fixed-term leases obligate landlord and tenant to the entire lease term, typically one year.

A landlord may end a lease prematurely if the tenant violates the lease—for example by failing to pay rent or by damaging the rental property. But even if a landlord has a good reason for ending a lease early, he or she must comply with numerous state rules, procedures and forms for terminating the tenancy, filing an eviction lawsuit, and using the security deposit to cover any losses.

Unless the landlord agrees to cancel the lease, the tenant is legally obligated to pay rent for the entire lease term (with some exceptions—for example, if the landlord seriously violates the lease, such as by failing to provide habitable premises). Tenants have a way out in most states, however—and that’s because most landlords have the legal duty to “mitigate damages” by trying to find a replacement tenant, rather than sitting back and collecting rent from the outgoing tenant.

How Month-to-Month Rental Agreements End

A month-to-month rental agreement provides more flexibility than a fixed-term lease. Under the laws of most states, a landlord or tenant can end a month-to-month rental agreement with a short amount of notice (typically 30 days).

Advice on Ending a Tenancy

Tenants who want more advice on notice required to end a tenancy, breaking a lease, and getting the security deposit back, should see Moving Out of a Rental.

Landlords who want more information, should see the Evicting a Tenant or Ending a Lease section of, especially the Terminating a Lease or Rental Agreement FAQ.

Getting Help from a Landlord-Tenant Lawyer

The law surrounding the early ending of a residential lease can be complicated for both landlords and tenants, especially if the tenant does not want to move out or if the landlord doesn’t want the tenant to leave. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic of how leases and rental agreements end. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a landlord-tenant lawyer.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I’m renting out my condo for the first time, and may need to move back in a few months. What language should I include in my lease to give me this flexibility?
  • My tenant just moved out with five months left on his lease. I’m having a difficult time finding a new tenant. I expect the old tenant to pay rent until I find a new tenant. He says he won’t. How can I collect?
  • One of my tenants is really difficult to deal with. He pays rent on time, but he’s unpleasant to me and other tenants in the building. Unfortunately, he has seven months left on his lease. Is there a way I can (legally) get him to leave early?
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