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Breaking a Lease - What you should know...

Your lease is an enforceable contract. However, there are steps you can take when you want to break a lease that may leave you without any loss of your security deposit and without any further obligation to the landlord.

What are your options?

  1. Find another tenant to replace you. This is by far the best way to get out of a lease. It can often be a win-win situation. When you need to leave, ask the landlord what the next legal rent will be for a new tenant. Then find one.

    Finding a new tenant isn’t as hard as you might think. There is, after all, a perpetual apartment shortage in New York. The key is properly set the stage for your leaving with your landlord. Let the landlord know that you have to leave and that you are prepared to help find the next tenant. Find out what the new rent will be and let your landlord know that you will be in touch when you have a qualified replacement.

    When you advertise your apartment, make sure the apartment shows well. Keep it clean and free of roaches. You should also ask any prospective replacement tenant to fill out an application form so that you can be certain that they are qualified. The landlord will do the credit reports and the deeper investigation of the prospect.

    TIP:   Since a landlord has an obligation to consider another tenant to assign your lease to if you want to leave, you want to find the best possible replacement tenant. At, we are prepared to help you find a replacement tenant by listing your apartment vacancy at no cost to you. Call us at 212-807-1414 option 5 for the Listings Dept. or click here to give us your listing information.

    A landlord is allowed to reasonably withhold their consent, but they have to have reasonable basis for the refusing the applicant, which is why you want to make sure that your applicant is financially qualified for the apartment.

    Let’s face it. If you break your lease early and your replace yourself with another qualified tenant at a higher rent, you’ve created a win-win. The landlord now has a new tenant paying a higher rent (which he didn’t expect so soon) and you’ve gotten yourself out of your lease. Since there are no damages to the landlord, you can also expect to get your security deposit back, provided that you have not damaged the apartment.

  2. You’ve been Constructively evicted. Leaving your apartment because there are problems with it—mold, bed bugs, lead paint, construction noise, etc. may mean that you can blame the landlord for failing to uphold the warranty of habitability. New York law says that all apartments have a warrant of habitability.

    To claim constructive eviction, you must move out first and you need to properly document the horrors that you claim forced you out. Send lots of letters to the landlord complaining about the conditions. Have lots of photos or statements from relevant plumbers, exterminators, etc. If you are wrong you have to pay the rent. One of the best ways to document your living conditions is to call 311 and have the Housing Preservation Department (HPD) visit your apartment. If they issue violations to the landlord, that is considered absolute proof. It’s possible that you will make such a nuisance of yourself that your landlord will be happy to release you and see you go. But if you wind up in court, you will have a landlord-tenant.

    But there is one big drawback to this scenario - once you go to landlord-tenant court, win or lose, you will have a court case that may make finding another apartment much more difficult.

    TIP :  It is almost impossible to rent in NYC if you have a landlord-tenant court history, whether you won or not.

Here are some additional strategies that might work:

  1. Ask to be released from your lease. Speak with your landlord and explain why you need to break your lease.

    Market conditions play a big role here: In a hot rental market where the landlord knows he can re-rent quickly, he is more likely to be cooperative. In the middle of winter, when the market is slower, your offer to find a new tenant may go a long way towards gaining the landlord’s cooperation.

    TIP :   The time of the year when you request to be let out of your lease can make a huge difference. In winter, the landlord will likely hesitate or be non-cooperative. But in mid-summer, at the height of the rental season, you will probably have more cooperation since the apartment can easily be re-rented, very likely at a higher rent.

  2. If your apartment is rent stabilized,your landlord may be very happy to get an allowed “vacancy increase”. Some landlords will take the vacancy as an opportunity to make apartment improvements in order to increase the legal rent by 1/40th of the cost of the improvements.

  3. Be annoying to the landlord, the neighbors, even the super. Call inspectors to the building and make lots of complaints. Make the landlord happy to get rid of you.

  4. Swap apartments. Management companies will usually allow you to break the lease if you are moving to one of their other apartments or properties. So if your reason for leaving is wanting a larger or a smaller apartment, the landlord just my be your best ally.

    TIP:   Make sure that when your landlord agrees to release you from your lease that you obtain a “surrender agreement” from the landlord. That is your proof that you have been released from your lease and therefore have no further obligations of any sort to the landlord.

  5. Plan for leaving when you sign the lease. In a non-rent stabilized apartment, you can always ask the landlord to put a clause in the lease allowing you to break the lease with 60 or 90 days of notice. Sometimes, landlords will agree to this.
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