Renting an apartment with a broken lease is sometimes tough, especially if it's recent. If you can afford to pay off the balance you owe to the landlord, do it before you begin your apartment hunt. If you can't, it's still possible for you to find a home, but it can take some effort.
Breaking a Lease With or Without Penalty
A lease is a binding contact, but it can sometimes be broken without penalty. State laws may allow you out of a lease agreement without penalty if the rental property is uninhabitable, you've become seriously ill or you're called to active duty in the military. If you need to relocate due to a job, or your landlord isn't holding up his end of the agreement, you may have a shot at getting out without penalty. Landlords may let you out if you find someone to take over the remainder of your lease or give ample notice that you'll be leaving.
If you broke the lease because you wanted to move, or you were evicted due to non-payment, the odds of facing a penalty increase.
Apartments generally run credit checks on prospective tenants. If you've broken the lease, it doesn't necessarily mean it's on your credit report. According to Experian, independent rental owners rarely report broken leases to credit bureaus because they don't meet the requirements for reporting. There are membership, security and legal requirements that the landlord must meet to report a debt. In addition, there are also associated reporting fees. If the owner can't report the debt to the bureaus directly, he can turn it over to a collection agency who can report it. An account in collection remains on your credit report for up to seven years. You can attempt to negotiate with the collection agency to pay off the debt and delete it from your report.
If it's been a few years since you broke the lease, the impact on your credit will diminish over time. Positive accounts in good standing can help boost your credit score and prove your credit worthiness.
The landlord can file a civil lawsuit against you for the unpaid balance of the lease agreement. If you have a valid reason for breaking your lease, the court may side with you. However, if the owner wins and receives a judgment, it'll go on your credit report under public record information. Apartments who run credit checks can see this information and may be unwilling to rent to someone who owes their previous landlord. An unpaid judgment can linger on your credit report for 10 years or longer, depending on your state. Judgments can be removed by paying the debt with a "pay for removal agreement."
What to Do
There's some things you can do to qualify for an apartment, even with a broken lease appearing on your credit report:
- Be upfront and honest with the management company about the broken lease and circumstances. Explain what happened and how you can ensure it won't happen again. If a broken lease is an automatic deal breaker, at least you will find out before wasting your time on the application.
- Offer to pay a larger deposit. If the apartment complex normally requires the security deposit and first month upon lease signing, offer to pay the first, last and security -- or a larger security deposit. States cap the amount a landlord can charge as a security deposit.
- Search for privately owned or owner-managed apartments, rather than ones in the hands of a management company. A private owner may be more understanding and flexible than a management company who has firm rules and eligibility requirements.
- Ask a trusted friend or family member to co-sign for the apartment lease. Having someone with a good credit history back you can be just what you need to get approved for the apartment.