What Do I Need To Pay When I Break My Lease Four Months Early?

Shannon in Alabama recently got engaged, and she’ll be moving into the house her fiancé owns after the wedding in December. The problem is her current place, which she just leased in April. She wrote to Consumerist for help figuring out what to do, since her landlord doesn’t seem too clear on the procedures, either.

In April 2010, I signed a one year lease for a house, paying a month’s
worth of rent as a security deposit. I got engaged in October, and we
are going to be married in December. I have been an upstanding
tenant, paying on time, not causing any problems, even making small,
inexpensive upgrades to the property (with her permission of course).
I emailed the landlord:

“I wanted to let you know that I am getting married on December 9th!
My fiance owns his own house, so we will be moving up there
afterwards. I plan to be completely out of the house by December
31st. I have enjoyed living in the house, it’s a great little house,
other than the heating and a/c problems, and in a great location.

Please let me know what your procedure is for moving out, when you
would like to do a walkthrough, and what the penalty for breaking the
lease is. I read the lease agreement but it didn’t really state any

Thank you so much for leasing to me and I know you will have no
problem renting it out again!”

Her response:

“Congratulations on your upcoming marriage, on the other hand we are
sorry to lose you as a tenant. Your lease runs through the end of
April. We normally don’t allow anyone to break their lease. With
your circumstance if you will pay two months (January and February)
extra rent, we will allow you to break the lease. This is our
standard exit policy. It is very unlikely that we won’t rent the
house during these two months, but if we don’t you will be responsible
for the rent through April.”

I’m confused. Is she letting me out of the lease except for paying
January and February’s rent, or am I having to pay until she rents it
out? What about my security deposit, will I lose that? What are my
rights? I don’t want to pay her any more or any less than I should,
but I’m just not sure what that should be.

As a side note, the heating and a/c problems started at the end of
July, where I used to enjoy the temperature in my house staying at the
thermostat setting, I had to deal with temps that never got below 80
until recently (I live in AL), and now I deal with temperatures in my
house dropping into the low 60s because the heat won’t pull. I have
complained many times, they have had a/c guys out there many different
times, and they say they can’t find the problem so it must be all in
my head.

If you want to know what your landlord meant, there’s only one sure way to find out: ask her for clarification. Call or e-mail and say, “I want to be absolutely clear on what happens if I break the lease. Do I forfeit my deposit? If I find a new tenant to occupy the house beginning in January or February, do I have to pay rent for that month?” xAsk direct questions to clear up the things you don’t understand. Asking what seem like stupid questions is better than paying rent when you don’t need to.

Consulting a lawyer with some knowledge of landlord-tenant law in Alabama would be helpful–or a local housing authority, the state attorney general’s office, or even a public librarian might be able to help you find the specific laws that relate to breaking a lease.