Homeownership can be complicated, but we also think it’s one of the most rewarding ventures out there. In our series, Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer, we are hoping to demystify some of the trickier aspects of buying, selling and owning a home.
In this edition, one of our lawyers discusses the laws and rules regarding ending a lease.
Dear Edina Realty Legal,
I would like to buy a home, but I have another six months left on my apartment lease. I’ve heard that you can end a lease if you buy a home. Is that true?
Can I break my lease to buy a home?
The idea that you can get out of a lease if you wish to buy a home is a common misconception — and its prevalence is likely the product of wishful thinking. In reality, neither Minnesota nor Wisconsin has any laws permitting a tenant to terminate a lease because they intend to buy a home.
Now, it is possible that your lease agreement gives you the right to terminate it early. But that type of term in a lease is very rare. Most likely, your lease does not allow you to terminate it before the scheduled expiration date.
What if I just leave the rental and stop paying rent?
A lease is a binding contract and if you violate it by not paying rent, you are in breach (or default) under the contract. The landlord can take legal action against you to recover rent and other expenses due. Often, leases contain provisions that allow the landlord to charge late fees and interest if the rent is not paid. And many leases also allow the landlord to recover any attorney fees they pay to enforce the lease. So by leaving early, you could actually incur expenses on top of the unpaid rent.
What will my landlord do if I break my lease?
For residential tenancies in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the law requires landlords to mitigate their damages if a tenant breaks a lease. What that means is that the landlord must use reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit. If the landlord can find a new tenant willing to pay the same rent, a tenant may be able to leave with little consequence.
But the landlord only needs to use reasonable efforts. And if there are other units vacant, the landlord is free to rent those first — which means it could take longer to rent your unit, and you could be charged in the interim. In addition, if the landlord rents the unit for less, the landlord can charge you, the defaulting tenant, the difference in rental amount.
How to properly end your lease
If you wish to leave your rental at the end of the term, you’ll want to make sure that you properly end the lease. Ultimately, you need to review your lease to determine whether there are any particular requirements for ending the lease. Often, leases contain a specific requirement for providing written notice of termination.
A common type of lease is a “term” lease. This is a lease with a specific end date. Typically, you do not need to provide notice to end the lease on the expiration date. You simply vacate the unit. But you’ll want to check your lease to make sure there are no notice requirements and you will still want to coordinate handoff of the keys, and an inspection, with your landlord before vacating completely.
If you don’t have a written lease, but pay monthly rent or if you are beyond the original period of a term lease, you are likely on a month-to-month lease. For a written lease, you’ll again want to check it for any notice requirements.
Terminating a month-to-month lease in Minnesota
If your month-to-month lease has no notice requirement, you’ll want to understand how to properly end it. In Minnesota, you must give the landlord at least one calendar month notice prior to the termination. The termination will be at the end of the monthly rental period, which is usually the end of the month. This means that if you want to end a lease on January 31, you’ll need to give notice no later than December 31. If you gave notice on January 1, the earliest the lease can terminate is the end of February.
Terminating a lease in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a little different. For a month-to-month lease, a tenant must give at least 28 days’ notice prior to the termination date. Again, be sure to check your written lease to see if there are any other notice requirements.
Moving forward, to a life without a landlord
Leasing laws can be complicated. And while you can’t end a lease just to buy a home, you might have other rights to terminate if the landlord has not fulfilled their obligations. If you have questions about your lease rights, there are many tenant’s’ rights organizations throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin that may be able to help.
The Edina Realty Legal Department serves as in-house counsel for Edina Realty and does not represent private clients. This Insight is not intended to provide legal advice.