What Happens if I Break My Lease and Don’t Pay?

Say you’ve lost your job and can’t meet your rental obligations as well as you could during your lease screening process. Perhaps you need to move a few hundred miles away, or it’s divorce or illness you’re dealing with. What actually happens if you break your lease and don’t pay?


A lease is a legally binding agreement, so if you break it and not pay, you could face legal action, a poor credit score, or find it difficult to rent again. That said, some situations allow you to break a lease without legal implications e.g., military duty, suffering assault, etc.


If breaking your lease is the only option on the plate, read on, and evaluate the likely consequences. In this article, you’ll also discover how you can make that rental contract breaking as painless and costless as possible. Let’s dive in.

Why Lease Contracts Exist

The strenuous conditions of breaking a lease contract often catch many tenants off guard. How can a proprietor deny you the right to move out of a rented apartment, if you have no other choice? Expecting a tenant in distress to pony up enough cash to pay for the rest of the lease seems cruel. 


Has the law given the renter the short end of the stick? Is your property owner preying on your hard luck? 


What most people forget, or don’t realize, is that this legal contract exists to protect not only the landlord but also the renter. A landlord cannot break a lease at a whim. They cannot offer your apartment to another renter willing to pay more. The conditions within the lease will protect your terms of the tenancy. 

The Legal Ramifications of Breaking Your Lease

Within most lease agreements is a point-by-point explanation of early contract breaking. Some of them provide the steps you need to take when vacating the premises. As an illustration, you might need to give a few months’ advance notice to the proprietor.


One other common requirement is an early cancelation fee or losing your security deposit. Your state’s laws will also influence the consequences of your decision if your property owner is reluctant to let you go without payments. The most common legal implications you will encounter in most states include:


If you just wake up and leave in the dark, your property owner will still expect you to pay rent as per agreement. For that reason, they can turn to the courts to ensure the law makes a judgment against you. If they file a civil lawsuit for the lease balance payment, and the judge accepts it, you will have to pay the debt.


They will serve you with papers, and collectors could attach claims on your assets. In some states, a landlord with a court order could institute wage garnishment measures against you.

Low Credit Score

Currently, you simply cannot vanish into the night without some form of backlash. An active “off the grid” lifestyle could help you get off the broken lease debacle, but eventually, the law will catch up with you. One consequence of ducking debt is not just the acquisition of a bad rap with the courts, but credit judgments.


The judgment is a public record that could significantly adversely affect a healthy credit score. The proprietor might not report your debt to the credit bureau, but the collection agency that chases the debt will. Collector’s reports will remain a blot on your credit report for seven years. If your landlord is litigious, you will need to pay up the debt immediately, to mitigate this turn of events.

Difficulties With Future Landlords

If the tussle with your property owner escalates and lowers your credit score, you will have a challenging time accessing loans or renting a new apartment. An angry former property owner will also give less-than-stellar testimonials to a new rental manager. 

How Can You Break Your Lease With No Penalty Fees?

Study the Early Release Terms of Your Contract

Take out your agreement and re-read it. Look for an early termination clause and release conditions. Some lease agreements might allow you to break off the contract if sudden personal events occur.


Others will simply say that an early release is impossible. Most contracts, however, outline the process of breaking the contract. They will summarize all the penalties that you should pay, the time of notice, and early termination charges.

Rope In the Property Owner

Say your savings are running out, and you cannot pay those rental checks any longer. Your lease agreement does not seem to have a penalty-free exit clause. The next step would be to appeal to the better nature of your property owner. If you two are on good terms, you can negotiate an early lease release quite easily.


Your landlord might find it in his best interest to end the lease if you cannot keep up with the rent. Giving them notice helps them find a new tenant early enough. Keep it in mind, however, that the property owner is under no obligation to let you off the hook. Furnish them with evidence to support your claim.


You can, for instance, ask for a letter from your employer stating your employment situation. If your negotiations bear fruit, have the new release amendment in writing. Both parties should sign it to make it binding. If you forsake this step, you might face a dispute in the future, which could lead you right back to penalties.

Offer Your Landlord Some Benefit

If the negotiations fail, you could try to make your departure beneficial to the property owner. Look at listing prices and find out whether they could earn more from the apartment with a new tenant. Market the unit and show him the number of willing renters out there.


You could also forego your security deposit. There are property owners that will settle for this option rather than spend more cash on litigation.

Study Your State’s Law on Lease-Breaking

Legally you can get out of a lease agreement if you can prove the actions below.


  • The lease is illegal, and that the proprietor should not have rented out the house in the first place. As an illustration, if the property was a commercial structure, garage, or basement, it could have code violations as per local law.
  • The property owner has failed to meet safety and health codes. You have a right to move to a home that feels like home. If the building is not habitable and has major health and safety challenges, then you can inform the property owner. If they ignore your plea, you can inform the authorities and plead constructive eviction.
  • The property owner continually violates your privacy rights by not giving a 24-hour notice before accessing the house. You can get a court order. This process will help you get a lease termination.
  • You are an active full-time military member or reservist on duty or a civil service officer. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) will protect you. This law covers your family, as long as the orders to serve are available.
  • Stalking, harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault victims can end their lease agreements and move for safety.
  • Seniors going to adult care facilities can break their leases as long as they have a physician’s certification.


Lawsuits, low credit scores, and difficulty in renting are some results of breaking your lease before time. 


Nevertheless, if the worst happens and you do not have cash at hand to pay the penalties, you know what to do – look for an exit clause or negotiate with the property owner, and help them find a new renter. The law can also help you leave without paying extra charges if you meet the conditions we’ve outlined above. 


All in all, to avoid painful legal and financial consequences when breaking a lease, approach a lawyer or renter’s rights association for further guidance.