A Relationship Ends, But the Lease Does Not

Dear Billfold,

The bad news is that my boyfriend and I broke up about two weeks ago (angst angst, it sucks but I’m doing pretty well).

The worse news is that we were five months into a year-long lease that’s in both our names (neither of us is the primary person on the lease), and now we have to figure out how to talk to the landlords about what’s going on, and convince them to let us either change the lease, or break it altogether.

The situation as it is now: I have moved out of the house and am staying with my parents. I told my ex I was willing to pay my half of March rent ($400) so we have some wiggle room. Neither of us can afford the two-bedroom house by ourselves.


As I see it, we have two choices: first, we alter the lease so that one of us is taken off (probably me) and the other one can sublet to another person, either for the remainder of the lease or on a month-by-month basis. Second, we break the lease entirely, which we don’t really have grounds for and which would put our landlords (who are very nice people) in a real bind.

Mostly I’m just struggling with how to start the conversation. “Hey, my relationship failed and now we’re going to make things more complicated for you, too!” I mean, how do you do this? Like I said, our landlords have been super nice to us (they’re a fairly young couple too, and this is the first time they’ve done this), and I don’t want them to get a bad impression.

We have until the end of March before things get really hairy, but obviously I’d like to get this taken care of as soon as possible. Can you give me any advice on how to approach this situation? Should I be honest about why we need to break the lease? Keep it vague? I appreciate any pointers you can give — N.

I’m sorry to hear about the breakup and that this has made a dilemma out of your living situation. You should approach this in the way you feel the most comfortable, and you shouldn’t have to mention your breakup with your landlords if you don’t want to.

People sign leases together all the time, and it’s fairly common for one person to need to get out of the lease, or for a lease to be broken entirely—people get new jobs and need to relocate, roommate situations deteriorate, relationships end.

The last apartment I lived in was a two-bedroom I shared with a roommate, and when I decided I needed to leave to get my own apartment closer to my job, I called up my landlord and told him that I was leaving and that my roommate was going to find another tenant to take my place. I didn’t give any specifics about my situation—just that I had decided to leave—and my landlord was perfectly fine with it. He even wrote me a little letter thanking me for being a good tenant, which I keep in a box in case another landlord ever asks for a reference. My roommate found another person to take my room a few weeks later, and they lived in that apartment for another year without any problems.

The good news is that your landlords are, as you say, very nice people, and are likely not to give you a hard time if you say that one of you has decided to move out while the other finds a replacement tenant for the other bedroom. If neither of you want to continue living in the house, you can talk to your landlords about needing to leave for personal reasons. You can then see if they are willing to allow you to break your lease (for a fee, perhaps), or more likely, give you the opportunity to help them find new tenants to take over the lease for you.

Think about what situation is ideal for the two of you, and what you’re most comfortable saying. Then, when you decide whether one of you needs to find a new tenant or that you both of you need to find tenants to take over the lease for you, it’ll be mostly in the hands of Craigslist.


Previously: Should I Take a One-Year Dream Fellowship, Or a Great Job Offer From a Private Company?


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