Breaking Your Lease
Most tenants don’t plan to break their leases. Unfortunately, despite best intentions, it can become necessary to leave before your lease expires. Life happens and when your living situation is under a tight contract, it can be tough to know how to deal with it.
When you move out of your apartment before your lease is over, it’s called breaking the lease. New York has detailed tenants rights to explain how to break your lease without furthering liability to the rent.
What Does a Lease Do?
Your lease obligates you and your landlord for a set period of time, usually one year. In this time, your rent usually cannot be raised and you cannot be evicted (except for some extenuating circumstances like failing to pay rent or noise violations, etc.).
Once you have signed your lease, you are legally bound to pay rent for the term of the lease, again, typically one year. This hold true whether or not you maintain residency, with a couple exceptions:
- You or your child are victims of domestic abuse.
- You or your spouse are over 62 years old and are moving to a residential facility for seniors.
- You are beginning to serve actively in military duty.
- The rental is unsafe of violates NY health and/or safety codes.
- The apartment is uninhabitable. This would qualify as “constructively evicted” which means that by no supplying livable housing, your landlord has “evicted” you and so your responsibility to pay rent is removed.
- You are harassed by your landlord or your landlord violates your privacy. This would be things like coming into your home without notice (though there is not a law that states the specific amount of notice required), turning your utilities off, changing the locks, etc. This would also qualify as constructive eviction.
If you don’t have a legally justifiable reason (like any of the above) to break your lease but still need to move out, the best bet is to try to talk to your landlord. The more notice you can give to your landlord the better and if you can, offer your landlord a tenant you’ve found (who is just as or more qualified as you).
Best case scenario – they may let you go with no strings attached. This scenario usually only happens when your current rent is under the market rate. Landlords may be more incentivized to let you go so they can make more money from a new market rate tenant.
They may penalize you. The penalty for breaking a lease can be anywhere around 1 – 3 months of rent. Some leases may require that you forfeit the remainder of your security deposit.
They may allow you to find a subtenant (you’re allowed to sublet your rental apartment as long as the building has at least four apartments). Subletting works only when the current tenant can prove that they’ll return to the apartment in the future. Be careful – you will be legally responsible for the apartment and if your subtenant causes damage or fails to pay their rent on time, you’ll be the one who gets in trouble. (Read more about subletting in the next section.)
Whatever happens, always be sure to get a termination agreement proving that your landlord and you have both agreed to terminate the lease.