The Length of Your Lease

Many people might assume that a lease will be for 12 months, but there can be more variables than you might realize! Depending on what your needs and preferences are, and what options are offered by the apartment complex (or other rentable dwelling), you might have to consider a short-term premium, renewal requirements, prorated leases, and paying a breakage fee.

We’ll take a quick look at each of these terms so you’re prepared when it’s time to sign the lease—and beyond!

Short-term premiums

Most standard leases are for a period of one year, or twelve months. But there are often options for both longer-term and shorter-term leases. Landlords may be willing to give a slight discount on your rent if you’re willing to sign a longer lease, since they have the certainty of keeping the unit occupied for more time. Conversely, however, landlords typically charge a higher rent if you require a shorter lease. Because they’ll have to more quickly find another tenant to replace you once you’ve moved out, apartment complexes charge a higher rate for the convenience of not being tied to a long-term lease.

Short-term leases may be available for 9, 6, or 3 months—or even offered on a month-to-month basis, in which the tenant isn’t legally bound to stay in the unit for any length of time, but must give adequate notice (typically 30 or 60 days in advance) before vacating. Talk to your landlord about how long you hope to rent the space, and be prepared to pay extra if you’re not able to stay a whole year!


Before your lease is set to expire, usually a month or two beforehand, your landlord may give you the option to renew the agreement. Apartment complexes often use this opportunity to increase your monthly rent or other fees, but it can also give you a chance to renegotiate terms as needed or appropriate (for the length of the lease for instance, or for the renting of additional garage or storage space). You can also check your current lease to see if any information about lease renewals is included; there may be some standard terms or requirements that are stated even before a lease renewal agreement is offered.

As with any new legal contract, make sure you carefully read the terms of any lease renewals and are prepared to fully agree before signing!


Because most people aren’t able to move in on the very first day of the month or to move out on the very last day of the month, rents are often prorated for the first and last months of a lease. Prorating is decreasing the standard cost for a product or service based on the amount or time used: let’s say you move in on the 15th, the halfway point of the month. Instead of paying the full amount for a month when you only lived there half the time, your landlord would charge you half the monthly rent.

Breakage fees

If you must move earlier than your lease allows, you’ll likely have to pay a breakage fee in order to move out. Breakage fees are often for a full month’s rent or more, and may even be the full cost of rent for the remainder of the time left on your lease. Check your lease and talk to your landlord or apartment complex manager if you need to pursue this option, and be prepared to pay all required fees.

In some cases, you may be able to sublet your apartment to another tenant rather than break the lease. If your landlord gives you permission to sublet your unit, make sure you get it in writing before you proceed. Once you’ve found a sublessee, you’ll need a written agreement with them that is just as thorough as your original lease. It’s still your name on the lease, after all, so it’s ultimately still your responsibility that rent is being paid and on time and that no damage is done to the unit.


Before you sign a lease, consider how long you plan to live in the unit and think about any likely circumstances that might require you to stay longer or leave earlier. Talk to your landlord or apartment complex manager if you don’t think a standard 12-month lease is your best choice. They can help you with other options that may be available and explain any associated fees.


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