The subject of lease breaks has been in the news as a local real estate firm was fined for violating the Service member's Civil Relief Act due to a conflict between Virginia law and the federal SCRA.
If you are legitimately covered under the SCRA and follow the guidelines within it, there is no fee to terminate the lease early. Virginia also has other legal and specific stipulations for breaking a lease for which there are no lease break penalties.
But what about other scenarios?
Before I get into this, this is not to be construed as legal advice. These are my best practices being a property management and landlord in Hampton Roads.
If a tenant wants to break a lease for any reason not covered by federal or state law, the most important thing they should do is communicate with their property manager so they can review the lease together. I've seen leases with no lease break provision while others require a lease break fee and/or a certain amount of notice to be given. What you cannot do as a property manager or landlord is charge a lease break fee and then continue to charge rent until the unit is re-rented after the notice period is up. In fact, Virginia law specifically outlines that when a lease is terminated, the landlord needs to mitigate damages by finding a new tenant (VRLTA 55.1-1251.) Also, the landlord or property manager cannot seek judgement for accelerated rent through the end of the lease term in a post possession judgement.
So what does this all mean? It means that if a tenant wants to break the lease, they're going to and the landlord or property manager needs to start the process to get it rented as soon as possible so you might as well work together to make the lease break mutually beneficial.