Before you read any further, note that this article provides general information on how to break an apartment rental lease and is for guidance only. If you're concerned about the impact of breaking a lease, you should consult a professional such as a contract lawyer or tenant advocacy agency in your area.
Read and Understand Your Lease
It's important that you know your lease, including any stipulations about notification of moving and whether or not you can sublet your apartment. Every lease should have a release clause, which will include your responsibilities. Such responsibilities that are most common are number of weeks notice, penalties for not meeting this time requirement and state of apartment upon leaving. Usually, landlords require a least 30 days notice with some stating 60 days. If you didn't check into all the financial responsibilities you undertook when you signed the lease, you need to know them now. Find out the rules you're working under before deciding how to proceed.
Understand Local Rental Laws
If your lease does not include a release clause, then you should consult the local laws for tenant notification of moving. Where I live, the law is 30 days if the lease does not state otherwise. Local laws will also provide you with information on when it's okay to break a lease - under which conditions you can terminate a lease without paying a penalty. Some conditions include the inability to live in your apartment because of some structural disaster, one that is the fault of the landlord. I always recommend before you do anything, consult the laws of your state.
Decide if You Should Break the Lease After You Understand the Penalties
Most penalties for breaking a lease include one or two months' rent, which in some cities can be quite costly. Make sure you know what you might face financially before deciding to go forward. Also, remember that you will probably need a reference from your landlord if you're planning on renting another home; breaking a lease, unless you do it amicably, might make it more difficult to rent in future. Further, paying the penalty - whatever the fee is - is often times the easiest way to get out of a lease. As much as it will cost you more financially, you'll be sure to keep your credit rating in tact.
Check if Subletting is an Option
Some residences do not allow subletting while others are open to it. Again, check your lease. If your lease allows subletting, consider it as an option, in particular if the landlord is not willing to negotiate with you. Subletting itself can be difficult, time-consuming and it means that you're still tied to the current property, but there are always people looking for a short term rental. It can, however, save you money. If your lease does not allow subletting, speak to your landlord to see if it's an option; part of the negotiation could include landlord approval of the person subletting. Again, with subletting, you're still responsible for the rent up until the end of the lease and sublet period.
Let Your Landlord Know
If you plan on breaking the lease, make sure you tell your landlord as soon as possible. If you have a good relationship with him or her, you might find it easy to negotiate a penalty outside of the lease agreement. I had to break a lease once because of a family emergency, and once I explained to the landlord why and that I would help find a new tenant, he waived the penalty fee which was equivalent to one month's rent. Honesty is usually the best policy.
Don't Stop Paying Rent
If you just stop paying rent this will not only harm your credit rating, but will make it difficult to rent another residence. Remember, if you do this, you've breached your contract, a legal document, which means the landlord can seek legal action.
Get Professional Help
As stated earlier, if you're in doubt or have tried all other options, including negotiating with your landlord, consult a professional. Most cities have non-profit agencies that deal with tenant/landlord issues or tenant rights' organizations. You can start there. The next step is to consult with a real estate lawyer or contract lawyer; this can be costly unless you do so through a non-profit agency, but it can save you money in the long run.