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What are the legal consequences of breaking a lease in DC?

what is a lease premium

What are the consequences of breaking an apartment lease in Washington, DC? And is it a dumb idea to enter into a year lease agreement knowing you'll probably have to back out in 6 months?

I'm looking for a new apartment in Washington, DC. However, there's a good chance I'll have to leave in the fall, and while I'd prefer a short-term lease, not many people are willing to offer one. I'm tempted to sign a year-long lease anyway, with the plan that I could either find someone to take it over in the event that I leave, or break if necessary. So I have two questions:

1). How difficult would it be to find someone to take over a lease in the early fall in DC? Is this a busy time of year for renting? Would it be any easier/tougher if the landlord were a management company vs. a private individual?

2). What are the relevant laws pertaining to breaking leases in DC? Would I be stuck for the remainder of the rent until someone takes the place, or is the amount capped? (I've heard one month's rent + security deposit, but I'm not sure if this was for all of DC or just the building I was looking at).

More generally, is this a prudent idea, or should I really be looking for a place that would go with a shorter lease?

Look for someplace that will give you a shorter lease. Talk to the landlord/agent, he or she would rather have the space occupied for six months than not at all. Everything is negotiable; if apartment 1 says no, move on to apartment 2 til you get the right answer.

I live in Virginia, and there are plenty of places around here that offer short term leases -- at a markup over what you'd pay for a year, of course. You either need to look harder or look outside DC proper.

Breaking a lease is expensive from what I've heard people go through. I knew someone who found a new job and even with 3 months notice, while was able to "break" it had to pay for a month and a half of rent AFTER moving out (this was in Massachusetts). Where I currently live, I know if I break my lease it will be something similar with having to pay for a month or two after I move out. Before I moved in they did say I could have the option of less than a year but still signing a lease (ex: 6 or 8 months), and the monthly rent was about $50 more per month for this.

posted by Jimmie at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2008

How difficult would it be to find someone to take over a lease in the early fall in DC? Is this a busy time of year for renting?

In the land of interns, early fall is the busiest time for renting.

If you tell the landlord you're looking for a lease through the end of summer, you may be fine; the end of summer is a good time to find a new renter. However, if you're leaving much after that (later in the fall) it could be tougher to get a landlord to agree (without extra cost to you), as that's a tougher time to find a renter. (At least, based upon discussions I've had with my landlord.)

It's dishonest to enter into a year lease agreement knowing you'll probably have to back

out in 6 months. Don't be that guy.

posted by 1 at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2008

Just talk to the landlords. You'll find one that will be agreeable. Offer a slight premium.

/on a 9 month lease.

posted by unixrat at 9:54 AM on March 11, 2008

As a landlord, if you did that to me on a lease without warning I would/could 1) keep your 1 month security deposit, 2) not be willing to give you a good reference, and 3) be pissed off at you for making me find someone else. When you discover a week later that you left something in the closet, or somehow ordered something that was delivered to the wrong place, guess how far I'm going out of my way to help you..

If, on the other hand, you had warned me when you first signed the lease that you might need to leave ahead of time, giving me the option of saying no- that changes everything. If you had stayed in touch, and gave me a reasonable amount of notice, it would be no problem at all to break the lease.

Don't even think about subletting. Any landlord with a grain of sense will have it written into the contract that you can not do this. If that person trashes the place or doesn't pay, guess who gets the bill?

1. The end of summer is the best time to end leases in DC. I had no problem convincing a landlord to do this three summers ago.

2. If you go the break the lease route and just leave, the worst that could happen is you would pay the entire year's worth of rent. The best that could happen is that you would pay nothing extra. It's likely that your situation will fall somewhere in the middle.

3. You could look into assigning your lease to someone else. It's likely that your lease agreement will have a clause saying you can't do this, but you can negotiate.

My two cents: tell the landlord you want to lease for your timeframe and you're willing to pay extra. Maybe a month or two months more rent spread over your time. This is less risky for you than trying to assign your lease to someone else, and won't have you potentially liable for the entire amount.

Have fun in DC!

Also, look around for group houses, if you can tolerate them. There will be plenty that are down with shorter-term roommates.

It happens and you wouldn't be a dick for doing it. I got out of a lease in TX after 3 months this year b/c we bought a house - the penalty was 1 months rent. Check the lease it will be clearly stated.

We did actually mention it when we signed - but who knows. In 6 months you may not be leaving after all and then your screwed.

Sign the lease - enjoy your time in DC.

Off topic comment but leases were something I didn't expect when I moved to the US from New Zealand. Back in NZ I never heard of anyone signing a lease for a residential property. We sign rental agreements with rules and conditions etc but not a fixed term lease. I still own my house in NZ which is rented through a management company and prospective tenants would laugh and tell us to get lost if we asked them to commit for a year.

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