Virginia Poverty Law Center

Ending Your Lease Early

In general, once you sign a lease you are stuck with it until it runs out. But you might be able to end your lease early if:

  • Your landlord broke an important rule in the lease.
  • You are a survivor of domestic or sexual violence.
  • You are in the military and getting deployed.
  • Your lease says you can end it early.
  • You and the landlord can agree to end the lease early.

Even if one of these applies to you, you have to be careful and do everything right. Otherwise, you could end up owing rent until the lease runs out.

Your landlord broke the lease

If your landlord has not done what they agreed to in the lease or what the law requires, you can end your lease early. For example, a landlord might break the lease by:

  • Not making repairs that affect your health and safety.
  • Coming in without warning or permission.
  • Harassing or verbally abusing you.

Something the landlord can fix

If the problem is something your landlord can fix, like neglected repairs or harassing behavior that they can stop:

  1. Give them a letter explaining the problem and that the lease will end in 30 days if they don’t fix it in 21 days.
  2. If they don’t fix the problem within 21 days of getting your letter, the lease ends 9 days later, and you can move out. Make sure you move out and return your keys by the end of day 30.
  3. If they do fix the problem within 21 days, you can’t end the lease.

Something the landlord can't fix

If your landlord did something they can't make right, like threatening or attacking you:

  1. Give them a letter explaining what they’ve done wrong and telling them that the lease will end in 30 days.
  2. Make sure you move out by the end of day 30. Keep records of when you moved and returned the keys so your landlord can’t say you were still living there.

Note: If the landlord breaks the lease again the same way as before, after fixing it within 21 days of your letter, you can treat it like something they can’t make right, and give them a 30 day notice.

Remember: You can also file a court case, called a Tenant's Assertion, and ask the judge to end the lease for you. But you cannot end your lease because of a repair that is your fault. 

You are a survivor of domestic or sexual violence

If you experience abuse or sexual violence at home, you may be able to end your lease early if:

  • You have a final protective order from the court, OR
  • The court has found someone guilty of family abuse or sexual assault against you.

Get help from your local Legal Aid or a domestic and sexual violence advocacy group if you want to do this. 

You’re being deployed by the U.S. military

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or the National Guard on full-time duty can end a lease early if:

  • You are transferred at least 35 miles away for at least three months, OR
  • You are discharged, OR
  • You are ordered to government-supplied housing and lose your housing allowance.

Get help from a legal service provider for service members and veterans if you need to do this. 

Your lease allows early termination

Some leases allow you to end them early and move out without owing all the rent. But usually they require you to pay a penalty, often two months’ worth of rent. They also have exact rules for ending the lease early, which you must follow carefully.

Check your lease to see what it says about early termination.

You can always try to negotiate

Even if you don’t fit in any of the categories above, you can always try to negotiate with the landlord. If you and your landlord can agree to end your lease early, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Read any move-out agreement carefully to make sure you understand it. If possible, get help from a Legal Aid lawyer to review the agreement before you sign. 

Keep in mind

  • Carefully follow all the rules for ending a lease early in your situation.
  • Keep track of the early termination in writing.
  • Keep records of when you move out and return your keys to the landlord.

You may want to talk to a lawyer for specific advice. Contact your local Legal Aid office to see if you qualify for free help.