Just how bad it is to break a lease?
June 5, 2015 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I might need to break a lease. For a good reason. Does this brand me forever as a Bad Renter who will forever be refused to rent anywhere else? Location: Austin, Texas.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, in a complex with 100-odd units. Unexpectedly, my daughter has just come to live with us (escalation of abuse and alcoholism by her dad, coupled with his agreement that things might be better for her back here where she grew up, 1500 miles away from him). She is 16 and really needs her own room, so we need to get a 2-bedroom unit asap. We were planning on getting a 2-bedroom anyway, this will just be moving up our schedule. (A very close friend (more like a godmother / 3rd parent to her) will let her spend some nights at her place in the interim, so we will not go stir crazy the whole time until we find a new place.)

The complex here has said that on June 30th, 6 months into my lease (which ends 12/31), we are eligible to move into a 2-bedroom unit here, as a transfer, with only a $50 higher deposit, a pet fee (one cat), and having to sign a new lease. The lease can be as short as 6 months if we would like, but the rent will be $10 higher for every month under the length of the typical 12-month lease term. We can afford it and it sounds like it would be a fairly painless transition. Then at the end of the year we can find a different place.

But the initial 2-bedroom unit they said would be available soon, July 1st, is in an unsuitable location way too close to the playground, and there are many small children underfoot all around it. No go. When we went and looked at the location, my boyfriend expressed that he doesn’t like this complex / neighborhood in general anyway and would prefer to break the lease and move somewhere else. The place is ok but not stellar, but has a fair amount of pluses, including being conveniently located (nice neighborhood to go walking / running in, shops / restaurants nearby, easy freeway access, and I can handle the commute ok). Also the apartment management seems good and they get things fixed in a timely fashion.

Breaking the lease, from what I gather, means that I have to give a lot of notice (I think 60 days), have to pay a “reletting fee” of $600, and am on the hook for the rent until they lease the unit again. Not sure how hard it would be for them to find a renter. My unit does have nicer cabinets / fixtures than other units, so I think it would compare favorably to other units in the complex once we’re out of it and they can show this specific unit. It also has a good array of parking spots nearby, including a few right outside the door. However.

I fear that if we break the lease, we will have to list this on our rental history everywhere else we apply for an apartment, forever, and no one will rent to us. We will be branded Bad Renters, and nobody wants to lease to someone known for breaking leases. I remember having to answer questions like “Have you ever broken a lease / left before the full lease term anywhere else?” on the standard applications used around here (Texas Apartment Association, which is the only kind of application / lease I can remember filling out, having lived in several different complexes in the area).

So how legitimate is my fear? We have a genuine-need-type explanation, unexpected moving in of child in a very crisis situation, but how much benefit of the doubt do you think we would get given the situation? Will we be branded for life, though, essentially? I worry about it coming up over and over, even years down the line, since I would have to answer “Have you EVER?” with a “Yes, we broke a lease” and offering our explanation, every time. Relying on the goodwill and understanding of every single future place I would ever want to live really scares me. I don’t want to be apartment-hunting with this hanging over our heads, making me feel like we would lose out on great places we want because leasing offices wouldn’t want to bother with us, the notorious Lease Breakers. The housing market here is really tight, which makes things worse. I don’t want an uphill battle every single time.

If the situation would be truly dire if we break the lease, and the complex here can find us a unit in a better location (facing the parking lot would probably be fine, and they told me to call them this weekend to find out what else will be available soon), then maybe that would be the best path. I need boyfriend’s buy-in on this plan, so I am trying to gather information on just how bad it would be to break the lease. I have never broken a lease, so this is really uncharted territory for me. So how bad would it be?

I think this might really depend on market - we are in Austin, Texas, in the Northwest 183 area, and would like to stay living in roughly this area, in an apartment complex rather than a condo rental or somesuch.
posted by megafauna to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nah, generally as long as you do everything you're required to (ie paying the lease and being on the hook for rent) it's not a black mark at all. Generally you don't have to disclose anything or wind up on any lists unless your landlord has to take you to court.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:17 PM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you do what the lease says, you will have fulfilled your end of the agreement to the extent of your responsibility and terminated it, not broken it. You are allowed to have a change of circumstances.

If you walk away you'll have to deal with a moderate hassle, but generally grown adults with decent income and no criminal record would not get the door slammed in their face - at best you might pay an extra deposit the next place or two.

This whole thing is not quite as Permanent Record-y as most people hold in their minds.

If the complex is that full, they'll turn your old unit over pretty fast. You shouldn't be on the hook for rent for very long.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:29 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Especially if you're paying a fee on top of the rent you're responsible for, I doubt your landlord is losing any money or cares at all.
posted by wnissen at 8:37 PM on June 5, 2015

My experience is that landlords only check a couple of landlords back. And as long as you've got a good reason and leave on good terms, I'd be somewhat surprised if your current landlord mentions it. I'm considering breaking my lease and I hadn't given it a moment's thought - since judging by previous vacancies in the building it will be re-rented by the end of the first day it's shown.
posted by wotsac at 9:16 PM on June 5, 2015

I work at an apartment leasing office. A big part of my job is reviewing and approving applications. If I saw a lease break in someone's rental history, it would not be a big deal at all, as long as you paid all the fees/rent that you owed as agreed.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 3:43 AM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

How bad would your finances be if you just kept it for the rest of the lease, using it as a second home or a place for you and boyfriend to spend the night once in a while just to get away?

I guess it depends on your assessment of the market and of your complex in specific and how much of a decent guy/corporation is your landlord (not that you would necessarily know this info). If you can see vacant units all the time in your complex, they might try to fill those first and let your paid unit stand empty and you would be on the hook for the entire end of the lease term anyway. Or not. But it's something to think about.
posted by CathyG at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2015

It doesn't sound like you have a "genuine need" to break the lease at all, you just don't like the offered two bedroom apartment because there are small children around it and because the complex itself isn't that great. So if your future explanation will mention that they offered you the two bedroom, I don't think it'll be as sympathetic a story as you are hoping.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:09 AM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also rent in a fairly competitive market, and I've never seen a rental application that doesn't provide space to explain items in your credit or rental history. I don't think "child moved in with us unexpectedly" could possibly reflect poorly on you.
posted by capricorn at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2015

Or, heck, even "family member", if you don't want to disclose you're a parent on applications.
posted by capricorn at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2015

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