Guide to Breaking or Changing Your Lease

Page

While it is recommended that you maintain your residency and payment to the landlord for the duration of a lease, there are ways to terminate a lease or payment if necessary.

  • When this applies: 
    • Breaking your lease entails leaving before a fixed-lease agreement expires, without paying for the remainder of the lease.1 Some leases have an early termination clause that will allow for breaking a lease.2
  • Legal reasons for breaking a lease: 
    • A tenant can break a lease if:
      • they start active military duty,
      • they are a victim of domestic violence,
      • the unit violates safety or health codes
      • the landlord harrasses the tenant/violates their privacy rights.3
  • Giving Notice:
    • A tenant must give a 30 day written notice when terminating a month to month lease or a quarterly lease.4

If you need to break your lease for personal reasons, but do not meet any of the requirements for legally breaking your lease, you may be able to sublease the space so as not to bear the burden of the full expenses for the remaining duration of the lease.

  • Subleasing
    • As long as the lease does not prohibit subletting, the tenant can do so. The lease should also clarify if the tenant needs the landlord’s permission prior to subletting. If a tenant does need landlord approval, they should send a letter through the mail to the landlord detailing the: sublet term, name of proposed subtenant, permanent address of proposed subtenant, reason for subletting, new address, written consent of any co-tenant (if applicable), and a copy of the proposed sublease.4  If you have checked and are allowed to sublease as per the terms of your lease see our guide to subleasing.

If your landlord is not following the law, get GSTA involved and confront them with our assistance. For further questions, reach out to us through our “Contact Us” page as well as the Office of Tenant Advocate in DC where you can receive free legal advice: Telephone Intakes: M-F, 8:45 am-4:45 pm, Walk-ins: M-TH, 9 am-4 pm; except holidays.

Address: 2000 14th Street, NW, Suite 300 North, Washington, DC 20009. Phone: (202) 719-6560

  1. J.D. Chris Barta, “Tenant’s Right to Break a Rental Lease in D.C.,” August 8, 2018, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/tenants-right-break-rental-lease-dc.html
  2.  “Breaking a Lease in Washington D.C. [2020]: ALL Legal Reasons,” iPropertyManagement.com, April 4, 2020, https://ipropertymanagement.com/laws/breaking-a-lease-in-washington-dc
  3. J.D. Chris Barta, “Tenant’s Right to Break a Rental Lease in D.C.,” August 8, 2018, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/tenants-right-break-rental-lease-dc.html
  4.  “Breaking a Lease in Washington D.C. [2020]: ALL Legal Reasons,” iPropertyManagement.com, April 4, 2020, https://ipropertymanagement.com/laws/breaking-a-lease-in-washington-dc