Most rental agreements in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a section regarding the renter breaking the lease agreement. While there is also likely a section or several sections regarding when the leasing agent can evict the renter, the section on breaking the lease should be of particular interest to those who might be in a position to have to break the lease some day. Renters should understand these contract terms so they can make an informed decision. Additionally the renter should consider all costs associated with breaking the lease. This includes both financial costs as well as emotional costs.

I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then. -Lewis Carroll

Understand the Contract Terms

Renters should review their rental agreement carefully before signing the lease. Your lease is a legally binding contract which should be given proper consideration before entering into the agreement. This is important because understanding these terms will be essential if the need to break the lease becomes a reality.

Rental agreements typically do allow the renter to break the lease but not without some form of penalty. This penalty usually comes in the form of requiring the renter to give a specified amount of notice before the contract is up and also requires the renter to pay a sum of money to break the rental agreement. A notice of 30 days and a lease break amount equal to one month’s rent are common penalties associated with breaking a lease, however, individual leasing agents may impose penalties which are either harsher or less severe.

Consider the Costs of Breaking the Lease

As previously mentioned there is typically a fee associated with breaking a lease. This fee is often set equal to one month’s rent. While paying this fee may seem excessive there are some instances in which it is an economically good decision to break the contract even though there is a financial penalty imposed.

Consider the example of a homeowner who is the process or relocating due to a job change. The homeowner may opt to rent an apartment in the new state while the house is put up for sale in the previous state. If the renter enters into a 12 month contract under the supposition that it will take this long to sell the old house and purchase a new house, he may be surprised if his other house sells quickly and he finds a home in his new state rather quickly. This may all occur within a matter of 2-3 months.

The renter has the option to stay in the apartment until the rental agreement nears expiration and then start looking for a home. However, this option runs the risk that the home he previously found will not likely be available. The renters other option is to place a bid on the new house and plan on breaking the lease if he is able to close on the new house. In this case, the renter would be saddled with both a rent and a mortgage for 9-10 months. This will likely be significantly more expensive than the price the renter would pay to break the lease.

Breaking the Lease is Not Always a Financial Decision

The decision to break a lease is not always completely a financial decision. There are sometimes emotional components which factor into the equation. For example a renter may have only 1-2 months remaining on his rental agreement when he is offered a dream job which will require him to relocate immediately. Although breaking the lease that late in the agreement is usually not financially wise, the renter may make this decision to avoid missing out on a dream job.

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Will Nesbitt

View posts by Will Nesbitt
Will is the principal broker of Nesbitt Realty and Condo Alexandria. He is licensed in anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but focuses on those communities found in and around Alexandria, Arlington, Mount Vernon and Springfield/Franconia. Will has been involved in real estate management, sales and investment for more than twenty years. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army. While in the army, he studied Russian at Monterey's Defense Language Institute. He is also a "veteran of the dotcom wars" and built most of the sites associated with Will currently resides in Belle Haven Estates just outside Old Town, overlooking New Alexandria. He is a former president of the Mount Vernon Youth Athletic Association and founded the Alexandria Fun with Friends Group. Will is the author of BattlestorM, a tabletop fantasy game, which was published by Ral Partha Publishing in the late '90's, and Arthur's Realm, a boardgame available at the Gamecrafter.