Can I break a lease to take a new job?

Updated by , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law


I'm renting a townhouse with a lease that expires in a few months. However, it looks as if a good job in another state may be available immediately. I heard that I can break a lease if I'm switching jobs. Is this true?


Many tenants are under the impression that a job offer constitutes a legal reason to break a lease. In most states, though, relocation for a job isn't a legal reason to break a lease. The closest exception might be that if you live in Delaware, you can get out of a long-term lease with 30 days' notice if your present employer requires you to move more than 30 miles. (Del. Code tit. 25, § 5314 (2024).) But that doesn't sound like it applies to your situation.

There are times when breaking a lease is justified, though.

Exceptions to the Rule That Tenants Are on the Hook for Rent When They Break a Lease

You might be able to legally move out—despite a long-term lease—in the following situations:

  • Your landlord violated an important lease provision. If your landlord doesn't live up to their important obligations under the lease—such as failing to maintain the unit in accordance with health and safety codes—a court might conclude that you've been "constructively evicted." This would release you from further obligations under the lease. However, the violation must be significant—your landlord's failure to produce a promised second parking spot, for example, probably won't justify your breaking the lease.
  • State law allows tenants to leave early. A few states' laws allow tenants to break a lease in certain situations:
    • Job relocation or need to move because of health or age. As mentioned above, in Delaware, tenants need only give 30 days' notice to end a long- term lease if they need to move because a present employer relocates or because health problems of a tenant or a family member require a permanent move. (Del. Code tit. 25, § 5314 (2024).) In New Jersey, tenants who have suffered a disabling illness or accident can break a lease and leave after 40 days' notice upon presenting proper proof of disability. (N.J. Stat. § 46:8-9.2 (2024).) In Rhode Island, tenants who are 65 years of age or older (or who will turn 65 during the term of a rental agreement) can terminate the rental agreement in order to enter a residential care and assisted living facility, a nursing facility, or a unit in a private or public housing complex designated by the federal government as housing for the elderly. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-18-15 (2024).)
    • Domestic violence. Many states provide special protections for victims of domestic violence, such as the right to break a lease by giving proper notice and providing proof of status as a victim.
    • Military service. In all states, tenants who enter active military duty after signing a lease must be released after delivering proper notice.
  • The rental unit is damaged or destroyed. If your rental is significantly damaged—either by natural disaster or any other reason beyond your control—you can consider the lease terminated and move out.
  • Your landlord seriously interfered with your ability to enjoy the tenancy. For example, your landlord has been sexually harassing you or violating your right to privacy by entering the unit without proper notice.

If none of these exceptions apply to your situation, all is still not lost—you still might not have to pay all the remaining rent under the lease because of your landlord's duty to mitigate their damages.

Your Landlord's Duty to Mitigate Damages by Rerenting the Unit

When a tenant breaks a lease, most states require the landlord to take reasonable steps to rerent the unit and credit the new rent toward the remainder on the lease. This is known as mitigating the damages, and it means that you will be liable only for the months the unit was vacant.

In a tight housing market, this liability should be no more than a month or so. If there are lots of vacancy signs, however, or if your rent was high, it might be harder for the landlord to rerent—and you might be on the hook for a greater number of months.

If your landlord stands firm but foolish and takes no steps to rerent and then attempts to collect the balance of the rent in a lawsuit, the judge hearing the case will determine when the unit would have been rented had the landlord acted properly and advertised for a new tenant. You'll end up responsible for the months between your departure and that date only. Again, if the housing market is tight, you will have less to lose.

What to Do When You Know You Must Break Your Lease

Since you know that you need to leave town early, you have an advantage over tenants who leave on the spur of the moment. Approach the landlord now and explain that you will need to leave early. The landlord might simply say "Okay" and let you out of the lease. At second best, your landlord might be willing to begin advertising your place now, before your intended departure.

Be accommodating in allowing prospective tenants in to see the place. If someone is available to move in shortly after you leave, you will not be liable for much, if any, rent.

Another tactic is to find a new tenant yourself. A landlord would be hard-pressed or foolhardy to turn away a willing prospect who has all the credit and background plusses that you had.

If all these steps fail, recall that the landlord still must take steps to rerent after you leave. Make sure they do: Ask a friend who lives nearby to monitor the ads and check the signs on the property; ask a neighbor to let you know if the unit is shown to any prospects. Your landlord won't be able to claim reasonable efforts were made to rerent if the classifieds make no mention of your place or if other units in the building get rented, but not yours.

One final thought: Ask your new employer for some help in getting out of your lease. If you are a valued new hire, you might get some assistance—much the same as for other moving expenses. It's not too cheeky to ask for some money that you can offer your landlord as a buyout from your lease. A smart landlord will jump at this quick and painless way to cover the costs of having to find a new tenant early. Be sure to get a written termination of the lease if you go this route.

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