Life happens — sometimes you have to break your lease early because you need to move to relocate for a new job, care for a family member or because you can’t afford the rent.
In most cases, breaking a house or apartment lease doesn’t directly affect your credit. If you satisfy the terms of your lease agreement, an early termination won’t appear on your credit report. However, if you incur debt from unpaid rent or early termination fees, your landlord or property manager may send it to a collections agency, which may negatively impact your credit.
In this article, we explain how a broken lease might affect your credit, how to minimize the impact and when you may be able to break a lease without affecting your credit.
If you break a lease for a reason that isn’t legally protected, you may face some financial consequences that impact your credit. Breaking a lease affects your credit if you don’t pay what you owe to your landlord. After attempting to collect that debt, your landlord could sue you for your unpaid rent or other money you owe, such as fees for early termination or damages, and turn your debt over to a collections agency. These actions may impact your credit.
Breaking a lease could also affect your future rental opportunities because future landlords may require a letter of recommendation from your previous landlord. A broken lease could also appear on a tenant screening report, which might affect whether or not a future landlord agrees to rent to you.
However, if your rental agreement contains a termination clause, you might be able to leave early under certain conditions, and your agreement will outline what breaking a lease will cost you. For example, a landlord might charge an early termination fee or keep your security deposit.
When your lease doesn’t have a termination clause, your ability to break it or the consequences you might face when you do will depend on the state in which you live. Laws vary by state, so be sure to use this resource to check tenant rights laws in your state. If your state doesn’t have information from this source, check with a local attorney that specializes in tenant disputes to understand the consequences of breaking a lease that doesn’t include a special termination clause.
Landlords typically don’t report rent payments to credit bureaus, so breaking a lease won’t automatically affect your credit if you satisfy the terms of your lease agreement. However, if you or your landlord report your rental payment history using a rent reporting service, any late or missing payments might be reflected in your credit report.
If you break a lease and the landlord turns the unpaid debt over to a collections agency, that company is likely to report the account to credit bureaus, which could affect your credit. Collection accounts factor into your payment history, the most influential credit scoring factor. Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO® Score and 40% of your VantageScore®.
Ultimately, how much breaking a lease impacts your credit depends on your personal financial situation and what credit scoring model is used to calculate your score.
Collections accounts typically stay on your credit report for seven years from the date of delinquency, or the date they were first reported late. Negative items have less impact on your credit score as they get older, but don’t completely fall off until the seven years are up.
Paying off collections debt could cause your credit score to increase, decrease or not change at all. How your score is impacted depends on the other information in your credit history. To prevent debt from going to collections in the first place, pay what you owe on time and as agreed.
In addition to an early termination clause that legally allows you to break your lease, there are some circumstances where you may be able to break a lease without penalty.
For all of these circumstances, local laws vary by state, so if you’re seriously considering breaking your lease, consult with a tenant rights lawyer who can review your lease and offer legal advice.
If your landlord doesn’t fulfill their obligation to you as a renter, you may be able to legally break your lease. This includes if the property is uninhabitable or if the landlord invades your privacy.
In most jurisdictions in the U.S., leases for residential properties typically include an “implied warranty of habitability.” which requires property owners to make sure the property is habitable, or safe to live in. They have this responsibility in addition to making regular repairs, as specified by most leases.
If your landlord takes actions that interfere with the tenant’s “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment of the property,” such as interfering with your use of the home or failing to resolve a problem that impacts your quality of life, you may be able to claim a “constructive eviction” and move out without the obligation to pay your remaining rent.
If you signed your lease before entering military service, you may be able to legally terminate it once you enter the military. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) an active duty service member may terminate a residential lease if they are transferred after the lease is made.
If you’re being harassed or are in danger, you may be able to terminate your lease early. Many states have early lease termination laws for survivors of domestic violence, including victims of sexual assault, stalking and harassment.
To see how these laws apply in your state, you can check WomensLaw.org for housing protections for domestic violence survivors. Just click on your state and then click the link to “Selected” statutes for your states or a link specific to housing to see if your state has protections in place.
Because tenant rights laws vary by state, you may be able to legally break your lease for other reasons. For example, in some states if you need to break your lease, landlords have to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant, and you may only have to pay rent while the property is vacant.
You can check your rights at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Tenant Rights page. If you don’t find information there, contact your state’s HUD office for information.
If you need to break your lease, following these steps may help you break it without hurting your credit or impacting your personal finances.
Reviewing your lease is the best first step to take if you want to move out early. Not only can you familiarize yourself with the exact terms of your lease, including if there’s an early termination clause, but you can also see if there are clauses or sections that may make the contract invalid and unenforceable. Consulting with a tenant’s rights organization can help walk you through anything you’re unsure of and could confirm whether the lease follows your state’s laws on such agreements.
Communicating with your landlord directly may lead to a more amicable outcome for both parties. Even if there isn’t a specific early termination clause, your landlord might be open to working something out. For example, if prices have risen in your area beyond what you can afford, your landlord might be willing to end your contract and find a replacement tenant without you paying off the remaining months of rent.
When going through this process, be sure to keep detailed records of what happens at every step. Your landlord may keep their word, but it’s better for your security to have everything in writing.
If you’re terminating your lease due to grievances with the property or your landlord’s behavior, be sure to keep records of any incidents that happen and seek out the assistance of a tenant’s rights organization or an attorney for additional help.
Depending on state and local laws, you may consider subleasing the property or helping your landlord search for a new tenant. Your lease and state law outlines when you can sublet, and if the landlord does have the right to decline your choice for reasonable grounds, such as credit score or credit history, but not discrimination.
Your landlord might have a legal obligation to mitigate the amount of rent you have left to pay and make a good faith effort to re-rent the property to someone else, without immediately suing for rent or otherwise penalizing you.
To fully terminate your agreement, you may have to pay any costs associated with breaking your lease, like administrative fees or possibly the difference between your monthly rent and what the next occupant pays according to their new lease. In some circumstances, you might also forfeit your security deposit.
Paying rent can positively impact your credit score if you use third-party rent reporting services to report positive rental history to the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).
These services charge different fees for subscriptions and report to different bureaus. Be sure to assess the pros and cons of each service you consider and choose the one that works best for your needs. Some you sign up for yourself, while others require your landlord to enroll.
Example services you can sign up for yourself include:
Example services your landlord may use include:
Landlords may consider your credit score when deciding whether to approve your rental application. Also, if you have collections debt from unpaid rent, your credit score might be negatively affected, which could be an issue if your landlord does a credit check.
Monitor your credit so that you can review what potential landlords or lenders might see. Get a copy of your credit report once per year for free from each of the major credit bureaus, through AnnualCreditReport.com. Because of the COVID pandemic, the three major credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) continue to offer free credit reports weekly through the end of 2023. Experian allows a free credit score as well.
No matter what your financial situation is, Self has the resources to address your needs at every stage. Whether you’re looking to build good credit or repair bad credit, the information and tools Self offers can help you understand how to navigate your choices and how those impact your credit.
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Ana Gonzalez-Ribeiro, MBA, AFC® is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and a Bilingual Personal Finance Writer and Educator dedicated to helping populations that need financial literacy and counseling. Her informative articles have been published in various news outlets and websites including Huffington Post, Fidelity, Fox Business News, MSN and Yahoo Finance. She also founded the personal financial and motivational site www.AcetheJourney.com and translated into Spanish the book, Financial Advice for Blue Collar America by Kathryn B. Hauer, CFP. Ana teaches Spanish or English personal finance courses on behalf of the W!SE (Working In Support of Education) program has taught workshops for nonprofits in NYC.
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