Student Legal Services can advise students regarding lease termination. Credit: Cori Wade | Assistant Photo Editor 

Getting out of a lease due to bad roommates may sound like a good idea, but it may be a lot harder and less common than a tenant might think. 

When attempting to get out of a lease, there are few ways to be successful, Molly Philipps, chief counsel of Student Legal Services Civil Team at Ohio State, said. However, with all the possible paths, an agreement needs to be struck with a landlord unless the tenant has a clear right to terminate their lease due to unsafe conditions under the Landlord-Tenant Act. 

“Getting out of a lease is much harder than getting into it,” Philipps said. “But you can do it. You do have some rights to terminate it even if your landlord doesn’t want you to.”

Philipps said a sublease or assignment is the best way to move out of an apartment or house, especially if a tenant is trying to terminate a lease due to problems with their roommates. But if that is not an option, agreement can be attempted with a landlord.

A landlord has to agree to have a sublease or an assignment living at their property. The terms “sublease” and “assignment” are often used interchangeably, but they are different, Philipps said. 

A sublease is when a tenant creates a contract with a third party to move in and use their section of the house. The tenant is still on the lease and responsible for their section of the house, so homework needs to be done to make sure the subletter will fulfill their obligations, Philipps said. 

An assignment is the best option when trying to get out of a lease, but it is rare that a landlord will agree to it, Philipps said. When a tenant finds an assignment, that tenant signs onto the lease, which essentially removes the current tenant from the contract, stripping them from their rights and responsibility under the lease.

Bob Bauma, an Ohio State alumnus, said he attempted to get out of a lease before moving into his house because he realized he did not want to live with the people with whom he had signed a lease. Bauma said he was able to get out of a lease by going to his landlord’s office and striking a deal with them to have an assignment take over his section, as well as pay a fee. 

“In order to get out of my lease, I had to find a replacement for myself, as well as pay a $50 fee,” Bauma said. “For 50 bucks, I was willing to pay that for my own sake because it was going to be a nightmare I think living with these people.”

Another way a person can attempt to terminate a lease involves sitting down with a landlord and coming up with an agreement to end it, Philipps said. 

Buyout provisions or buyout clauses, which are typically sought through negotiation, are also an option, Philipps said. She added that typically if a landlord isn’t going to lose money and wants to do renovations to the property, they will let a tenant out early, but if not, landlords don’t usually let someone out because they have an interest in keeping them there for a period of time. 

Philipps said if a tenant wants to terminate a lease, in most cases, all roommates have to agree to leave, unless the tenant’s roommates are willing to pick up their portion of the rent. 

The Landlord Tenant Act is one of the most powerful rights a tenant has under Ohio law, Philipps said. This act provides tenants with the right to terminate a lease if there is a clear safety issue that would make someone unable to live in the home. 

“If you have provided written notification of an issue that is materially affecting safety and habitability in the home, and you’ve given the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem — up to 30 days — and that time period has gone by, but the problem has not been remedied, so under those circumstances, you have a right to terminate your lease,” Philipps said. 

A tenant should never go about trying to get out of a lease without consulting a lawyer first, and while lawyers can be expensive, it is a one-time $40 fee set at a student’s first term of enrollment to get help from SLS, Philipps said. SLS is the university’s nonprofit law office that provides students with legal advice, representation, education and resources, according to the SLS website.

“We never ask you for another dime, so no one should ever be concerned if they have an appointment with our office we’re going to ask them for money,” Phillipps said.