Breaking a Lease in NYC

Photo of author
Written By Alina Sokirko

Signing a lease comes with the obligation of paying your rent on time and abiding by any other stipulations in the contract. But life happens, and occasionally, a tenant may need to get out of a lease early due to unforeseen circumstances. Breaking the lease is often your best option. 

Breaking a lease without an acceptable reason or consent from your landlord can lead to serious repercussions, including legal penalties and potential fines. But there are ways you can break the lease without facing serious consequences if the issue is addressed appropriately. Here is a look at how to break a lease in New York City.

How to Break a Lease in NYC

  1. Ready Your Lease
  2. Contact Your Landlord
  3. Put It in Writing
  4. Understand Your Landlord’s Legal Obligations
  5. Understand the Landlord-Tenant Law

1. Read Your Lease

The first thing you should do if you’re thinking about breaking your lease is to read the contract itself. Some larger landlords expect tenants to occasionally break the lease and will include a clause about what to do to get out of the contract. There may be a hefty penalty associated. But it’s often less than what you would owe if you continued to occupy the unit for the remainder of the term. Others will not be so flexible and expect you to fulfill your obligation or face the consequences. So, it’s important to read what is stated in the document to see if it says anything about breaking the contract. 

2. Contact Your Landlord

After reviewing the lease thoroughly, you should contact your landlord. If it’s a smaller landlord, you may want to give them a call or send them an email to discuss options and negotiate a deal. If it’s a larger corporate landlord, you may need to contact the property management company or another representative to find out their procedures and policies regarding breaking the lease. Some will be understanding, while others may be upset, depending on the circumstances. But it’s essential to understand the potential consequences so you can weigh the pros and cons. 

3. Put It in Writing

When you know you are serious about leaving early, you should submit a notice to your landlord in writing, explaining the situation and requesting to be let out of the lease. Depending on the situation and your relationship, it may be better to call or email them first and discuss potential solutions, especially if it’s on short notice. But at some point, you should submit a notice in writing in case you’re later brought to court. 

4. Understand Your Landlord’s Legal Obligations

If the landlord is unhappy about you breaking the lease early, it’s important to be aware that they have certain legal obligations before they can sue you. According to the law, if the landlord decides to sue you for breach of contract for breaking your lease, they must first make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant. So, if you know anyone who would be willing to rent the unit after you leave, this could help ease the transition. But even if you don’t, the landlord must make an effort to find a new tenant before they can file a lawsuit. 

5. Understand the Landlord-Tenant Law

It’s also important to note that there are laws that permit you to break the lease without facing penalties. For example, suppose the landlord is not maintaining a habitable environment as required in the local landlord-tenant law. In that case, you have the right to leave the unit without facing the consequences. So, if there is structural damage to the property or serious repairs that need to be made and the landlord has neglected to fix them for an unreasonable amount of time, you have a right to break the lease. You may want to speak to an attorney first to better understand your rights and prepare a case. Plus, you’ll need to document the neglect in case you have to go to court. But this is a way to legally void the lease without facing financial or legal repercussions. 

Alternatives to Breaking a Lease

Do a Lease Assignment

A lease assignment is when the landlord agrees to let another tenant take over your rights and responsibilities as outlined in the lease. So, if you know someone who is looking for a place to live, you may be in luck. The landlord can deny your request for a lease assignment, but they must have a valid reason. They have a legal obligation to look for a new tenant before they can take you to court, so you could make their job easier by finding a replacement. But they will still have to meet the necessary credit and income requirements to be accepted. 

Subleasing the Remainder of Your Lease

Another option to avoid breaking the lease is to find a sublessor to take over your apartment. A sublessor is someone who agrees to occupy the unit for a period of time and pay rent. The main difference between this arrangement and a lease assignment is that your name is still on the contract with a sublease, even if you aren’t living there anymore. So, you will be responsible for ensuring that the sublessor pays the rent on time and doesn’t damage the apartment. If they do, you can be held responsible, the same way you would if you still occupied the unit. Subleasing can be risky; however, it can be a reasonable alternative to outright breaking the lease if you trust the new tenant. 

What to Do if Your Landlord Won’t Break Your Lease? 

Try One of the Above Alternatives 

If your landlord refuses to let you break the lease, the first thing you should do is to find a new tenant through one of the above methods. While they can still deny the applicant, most landlords won’t care who occupies the unit as long as rent is being paid on time. Plus, it shows that you are making an effort to remedy the situation, which will be helpful if you need to go to court. If you find a qualified and responsible replacement, it will be much harder for the landlord to take legal action. 

Negotiate

If you can’t find a replacement, the next option is to negotiate with the landlord. Even if they aren’t happy with the situation, most landlords would rather make a deal than take it to court. So, if you make them a reasonable offer, many will agree to let you out of the lease without problems. For instance, you could offer to keep paying rent for another month or two until they’ve found a tenant. Or negotiate a fair lump sum that you could pay to void the contract. As long as you help bridge the gap between your departure and a new tenant entering, most landlords will let you walk away without pursuing further action. 

Contact a Tenant’s Rights Organization

If all else fails and you can’t reach an agreement, you can contact what is known as a tenant’s rights organization. These government agencies and not-for-profits can help provide free legal advice on what to do in a legal dispute with your landlord. They will help you better understand your rights so you can either return to the negotiating table more informed or prepare for a potential court battle. 

Try the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Project

Another option is the landlord-tenant mediation project. This is a service offered by the city government that helps landlords and tenants resolve legal disputes outside of housing court. It was set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help ease tensions created by the eviction moratorium and other legislation. But it’s still available and free to any New York City residents. All you have to do is call 311 or contact the New York Peace Institute. 

Hire a Tenant Attorney 

You can also hire a tenant attorney if you have the money. New York City housing laws can get very complex, and it may help to have the assistance of an experienced lawyer. But hiring an attorney can also be expensive and risky if you have to go to court. Typically, whoever wins the dispute will have to pay the other party’s legal fees. So, you may end up with a hefty legal bill if you lose. But if you know you are in the right and feel confident a judge will see it your way, hiring a professional attorney can improve your chances of a favorable verdict.