How Long After Signing a Lease Can You Back Out?

Updated: Apr. 10, 2023

Once you sign a lease, you're bound to it. Or are you? Here are the circumstances that may allow you to back out of a lease.

Still paying for that timeshare you never use? Did you go to a party and stumble into a sales pitch for a multi-level marketing “opportunity”?

Sometimes, we get swept up in the moment or simply sign something to make someone go away. Maybe not the best idea, but no one’s perfect. That’s why states like Texas and Minnesota, as well as the federal government, passed “cooling-off” laws which allow people to cancel certain types of contracts.

What if you signed a lease for a rental property? That’s a contract, right? If you wake up the next morning and decide you like another place better, can you cancel it? It’s only been a few hours — how long do you have if you think you made a mistake?

How Long After Signing a Lease Can You Back Out?

You can’t. Leases generally aren’t covered by cooling-off or buyer’s remorse laws.

According to legal experts at, those laws protect people who succumbed to high-pressure sales tactics for goods and services, not those who voluntarily agreed to rent a property. Think of a guy who stops by your home after a major hailstorm and sells you a new roof. You have three days to cancel that deal, no strings attached.

A lease, though? “It can be hard to break a lease without consequences if the landlord and property management company hold up their end of the deal,” says Stacy Brown, director of training at Real Property Management, a Neighborly company.

Landlords aren’t cornering you after a tornado, stopping by your home unannounced or pressuring you outside their normal place of business, like at a trade show. These are all typical situations that cooling-off laws tend to cover.

What are the consequences for backing out of a lease? Technically, once you sign, you agree to pay rent for the entire lease term. Most states, though, have “duty to mitigate” laws, according to That means landlords must try to re-rent the property. They can’t just sit back and collect rent (or sue you) for the entire term.

But that’s not a fail-safe. If they can’t find someone, or you live in a state without mitigation laws, you could be on the hook for all of it. Read your lease carefully to learn the penalty for terminating early.

Bottom line: Once you sign your name to a lease agreement, you’re bound to it. If you back out before moving in, the landlord will lose income they were relying on and must start all over looking for a tenant. At the least, you will be paying the rent until they find someone new.

Ways a Lease Can Be Terminated

So the cooling-off period is a myth. But what happens if your circumstances change? Sometimes the universe hands you a burden or life event that can’t be helped. Do you have any recourse?

Sometimes, yes.

State laws often give tenants the right to break a lease under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, not many of those circumstances are good. This list is not comprehensive, so check your state’s tenancy laws to learn your rights.

  • Military service: Brown says members of the military are covered under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act if they receive orders to relocate. This includes current military, reserves and National Guard members, as well as those who join during the lease. You should provide 30 days’ notice, and you have to pay for the time you lived in the rental.
  • Domestic violence: If you’re a domestic violence victim, you can terminate your lease and move out without penalty. Some states, like Texas, require 30 days’ notice.
  • Stalking or sexual violence: If someone is stalking you or you’re the victim of sexual violence, and you need to leave your rental for your safety, you can terminate your lease.
  • Tenant’s death: Your heirs or estate can terminate your lease on your behalf.
  • Landlord failures: If your landlord doesn’t keep the property livable, repair smoke alarms or fix things that affect your health or safety, you may be allowed to terminate your lease.

Even if none of these apply to you, you can still move out early for a job or school, or to care for an aging parent. Just be prepared to pay a penalty for breaking the lease. And always talk to your landlord well in advance of your leave date. If you have a good relationship, you may be able to work something out.