What Happens if I Break My Lease Agreement? (FAQ)
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
If you rent a residential unit in Montana, this article with help you learn:
- What you need to do when you move out
- What legal reasons you might have to break your lease
- What happens if you break your lease agreement
- How you can sublease your unit.
What do I need to do before moving out?
Before you move out, you must give proper written notice to your landlord of when you will move out.
- If you pay rent weekly, then you must give 7 days’ notice before moving out.
- If you rent month-to-month, proper notice is usually 30 days before you move out.
- If you have a lease agreement for longer than a month, then 30 days before the end of the lease is usually proper notice.
If you want to keep your security deposit, it is a good idea to:
- Clean the unit
- Keep a copy of your condition report
- Give your landlord your new address.
You can learn more about how to get your security deposit back.
What if I want to break my lease?
If you have a written rental agreement that hasn’t yet ended, you will need a legally valid reason to terminate that agreement before it ends. Your lease is a contract, and if you move out before the lease expires and don’t have a legally valid reason, you would be breaching the contract. If you have a written lease, follow whatever your lease says about giving notice of moving.
If you do not have a legally valid reason to terminate your lease, then you will be on the hook to pay rent for that unit each month until:
- The date the lease agreement ends, or
- The date a new tenant moves into the unit, whichever happens first.
For example, if you move out at the end of the third month in a 12-month lease, the landlord could ask a court to make you pay for the rest of the 9 months on the lease, because you breached the contract.
Important: The landlord must try to rent the place to someone else after you leave. But if the new tenant pays a lower amount for rent than you did, or if it costs the landlord more money to re-rent the place, you could be held responsible for those expenses. Those expenses include lost rent for the time that no one was living there, cost of re-renting, court costs (if any), and other actual costs the landlord can show they had to pay. You may lose your security deposit too if you move out before the end of your lease.
If you need to break your lease early, it’s best to try to work something out with your landlord. Your landlord may be willing to agree to let you end your lease agreement early. Get that agreement in writing, and have the landlord sign it. Keep your copy safe.
Important: You may have a legally valid reason to end your lease early if your landlord fails to maintain the premises. But, there are specific steps you must take in order to move out before your lease ends. Learn more about how to ask your landlord to make repairs.
Can I sublet?
A sublease or subletting does not take your name off the lease. You would still be responsible for any damages to the rental, unpaid rent, or other costs.
If you want to move out early, talk to your landlord to find out if your landlord wants you to try and find a new tenant to move into your rental unit.
If you find someone, it’s a good idea to see if your landlord will let you out of your lease entirely and just do a new lease with the new tenant you found. It’s best to avoid subleasing your rental because if anything happens with the new tenant you will be responsible. For example, if the new tenant stops paying rent you may be on the hook.
Important: If you want to sublease your rental to someone else, the landlord must agree in writing to the new person taking over your lease. If the landlord does not agree to the new tenant, then that person will have no right to live in the rental unit and you’ll still be responsible for any damages to the rental, unpaid rent or other costs.
You must give your landlord proper notice before moving out. Proper notice depends on what kind of rental agreement you have. If you have a written lease, follow whatever your lease says about giving notice of moving. If you break your lease, you may be responsible for rent until the end of the lease or until the landlord finds a new tenant. You may also have to pay other costs that the landlord can show they had to pay because you broke your lease. It is best to try to work out an agreement with your landlord. Get that agreement in writing and keep a copy for yourself.
If you have any questions, it is a good idea to talk to lawyer.
- The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service may provide you with contact information for attorneys who provide the type of assistance you are seeking, for a fee. You can contact the State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (406) 449-6577 or montanabar.org.
- Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil, non-criminal legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help in Montana.
- If you qualify for help from MLSA, you may be able to get free legal advice from a volunteer attorney by email using Ask Karla.
- Download our free Notice of Moving Out form below.