How To Back Out Of A Lease Before Signing

Gideon Zielinski
by Gideon Zielinski

Backing out of a lease isn’t something we plan for. However, sometimes it happens. When it does happen, it’s important to know the proper steps, so you don’t get into any trouble along the way. In this article, we are going to show you how to back out of a lease correctly. Because when life throws you a curveball, you want to mitigate further stress.

In general, if you’ve signed no contracts, you’re free to back out of a lease before signing. You’re changing your mind, and this is typically acceptable. However, if you’ve agreed to anything in writing, over text, or email, you may be responsible for those conversations. Always check your local laws and ordinances.

Let’s explore this further, so you know your responsibilities. Leases are a legal document, and you must handle the situation with care. Failure to do so could result in fines, a negative credit score, and even legal action.

How to Back Out of a Lease Before Signing

If you haven’t sat down with your landlord, go over the lease agreement, or signed the document, you aren’t backing out of anything. If you never said, signed, or otherwise agreed to occupy the rental and begin making payments, you are not obligated to anything. There are a few caveats to this. Here is a list below:

  • Email agreements
  • Verbal agreements 

Email Lease Agreements

Agreeing in an email will provide a means of documenting your agreement. If the landlord expressed specific terms in the email – such as rent cost, move-in dates, termination fees, etc. – and you agreed to them, there is a chance they could try to hold you to those terms even if you didn’t sign anything.

Be very careful with what you say in email conversations. Do not make agreements until you are sure you want to rent the property. It is better to ask questions to learn about the rental, and then wait to agree on anything until officially signing.

If you’re in a situation where you made agreements over email and now want to back out, here are a few things to do:

  • Explain clearly to the landlord why you are unable to move into the location
  • Don’t ignore it
  • Check state laws and local ordinances

Explain Why You’re Backing Out

If you sent an email agreeing to the lease, but now you need to back out, be sure to send another email explaining exactly why. You want to have your reason in writing so your landlord isn’t confused about the situation. Also, if the disagreement were to go to court, it’s helpful to have all pertinent information at your fingertips.

Don’t Ignore the Landlord

If your potential landlord reaches out to you wondering why you aren’t signing the lease, it’s best to give a clear and professional response. You don’t want there to be any murky water surrounding why you are backing out.

Ignoring the landlord will frustrate them. If you are kind, professional, and explain why you cannot sign the lease, you should have no issues.

Check Local Laws

Some areas may not find email agreements to be binding in any way. They may say that if you didn’t sign, you are free. However, others might have more stringent regulations surrounding emails and written agreements – even if they aren’t an official lease.

It’s wise to contact your local governing body if you are concerned as they will give you relevant information regarding what is permitted in your area.

If you’re backing out of an apartment lease and would rather rent a home, see our article on the best reasons to rent a home.

Verbal Lease Agreement Without Signing

Making a verbal agreement to a lease is not binding in most cases. Generally, there is no way to enforce a verbal agreement legally. There are, of course, exceptions to everything. If you verbally agreed to a lease, we advise you to check your local laws and ordinances before you back out.

Backing Out of Lease Before Move-In

There may be some circumstances where you need to back out of a lease before moving in. If you haven’t signed the lease, you will probably be free to back out with no issues. However, if you did sign the lease, you are obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract. When the document is signed, it becomes a legally binding contract between both the tenant and the landlord.

Here are some steps you can take if you need to back out of a lease after signing but before move-in:

  • Communicate clearly with the landlord
  • Follow the terms of the contract
  • Consider breach clauses

Communicate Intentions to Landlord

Write down exactly why you need to back out of your lease agreement. It helps to let your landlord know as soon as possible. Depending on your situation, your landlord may be more or less understanding. You are more likely to have a good outcome if you are clear and honest in communication.

If you simply decide not to move in, breaking the lease in this manner may offer the landlord an opportunity to obtain a new tenant. In this case, you may not have to incur the full early termination fees. Nevertheless, it is crucial that you have your intentions in writing, along with a 30-day notice for the records.

In many states, landlords are required to make a good-faith effort of finding a new tenant so that those breaking the lease do not have to pay rent for the entire lease period outlined in the agreement.

Follow the Terms Outlined in the Contract

There is no getting around it – if you signed a lease, you must stand by your word. Many contracts have guidelines specifically for breaking a lease. Depending on your landlord, and the situation you are in, you will likely need to follow these guidelines. These could include paying a fee, finding a subletter, or forfeiting security deposits.

Trying to find a way around your lease could lead you into legal trouble. You want to avoid going to court or having any major blemishes on your credit score. These things follow you around and will make it challenging to rent in the future.

Regardless of the particular terms, rent must be paid until a new tenant is found to occupy the property. When it comes to rent and the security deposit, there are options. In some cases, the deposit can be used as a portion of rent and any remaining money may be returned once a new tenant takes over the unit.

Or, the landlord may decide to keep collecting rent and return the entire deposit once the new tenant is found. When the lease doesn’t specifically outline what to do in these situations, negotiations are necessary.

Consider Contractual Reasons for Breaking the Lease

As we stated above, if you’ve signed the lease, you should stay within those contractual obligations. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t valid contractual reasons for breaking the lease. Here’s a list of several common reasons to legally break a lease:

  • Dangerous rental environment
  • The landlord didn’t uphold their end of the lease 
  • You have a significant health event

These are just a few of the reasons you may break a lease with limited penalties. It’s up to you to study your lease to determine your available options.

Potentially backing out is one reason it’s vital you read through your lease before signing. You want to know what your options are before you get into this situation.

See our article comparing the pros and cons of breaking a lease or getting evicted.

Related Questions

Can you back out of a lease within 24 hours?

Not usually. Unless your landlord states that there is a back out period or “cool off” clause, you are responsible for holding up your end of the contract. If you haven’t yet moved into the rental, your landlord may work with you, as they cannot evict someone who isn’t occupying their property. However, you are at the mercy of the landlord and the content of the signed lease.

What if the Landlord Backs Out of the Lease Before Signing?

The written contract is the standard. If you and the landlord have not entered into a written agreement, then the property manager is within their rights to back out of the situation. However, landlords are not allowed to discriminate against renters for any arbitrary reasons. If you can prove that the landlord has discriminated against you, you may have a legal case against them.

What if a Roommate Backs Out of the Lease Before Signing?

If your roommate has not signed anything, they don’t have any obligation to continue with the lease. The best way to avoid this situation is to talk things out with your potential roommate and be selective when searching for a potential co-renter. If you sign a lease without a roommate or have a roommate who is on the fence, you will likely be held responsible for the entire rent payment.

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Gideon Zielinski
Gideon Zielinski

Gideon is a writer and hobby woodworker. He enjoys working on projects small and large-everything from crafting boxes and benches, to replacing carpet and landscaping a yard.

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