Most tenants don’t plan to break their leases but may run into a situation where they can no longer live in their homes. While leases enforce that renters must pay rent for the duration of their lease term, some exceptions do apply. If you need to stop living in your home and discontinue paying rent, you are breaking your lease. New York City outlines the specific steps and qualifications for lease breaking.

Legal reasons to break a lease

Tenants can legally break their lease for any of the following reasons, according to New York State Law Section 227:

  • If the tenant or another member of the household is a victim of domestic violence.
  • The tenant or their spouse is over 62 years old and is 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 not supplying livable housing, the landlord “evicts” the tenant and relieves them of their responsibility to pay rent.
  • A landlord harasses their tenant and violates their privacy. This can include the landlord entering the home without notice, turning off utilities, changing the lockets, etc. This also qualifies as constructive eviction.

Under one of the above circumstances, the tenant gives notice to their landlord, and that landlord must allow termination of the rental agreement. Therefore, the landlord absolves the tenant’s responsibility to pay rent for the remainder of the term. While the landlord is not obligated to re-list the unit, they must offer it at a fair market price should they decide to rent it again.

Breaking a lease for other reasons

Tenants without one of the above legal reasons to break a lease may still need to move out of the premise. If you are considering breaking your lease, you should first talk to the landlord, giving them as much notice as possible. Some landlords may be more accommodating, but all parties should try to reach an amicable agreement.

Find a new tenant

If you wish to break the lease, you should present the landlord with a new tenant who is either just as or more qualified than you are to take over the lease. You can create a listing on RentHop and advertise to potential renters. In this case, the landlord releases you of your financial responsibility and assigns the lease to the new tenant.

Landlords may also let you find a subtenant and sublet the apartment if you live in a building with at least four apartment units. The difference here is that you still accept financial responsibility should the new subtenant not pay rent, inflict damage on the property, etc.

Break the lease with no strings attached

Sometimes, a landlord may accept the new tenant and let you go without repercussions. This is more likely to happen if the current rent rests below the market rate, allowing the landlord to make more money off of the new tenant.

Pay a financial penalty

Other landlords may financially penalize their tenants, in which case you would have to pay anywhere from one to three months’ worth of rent. Additionally, you may forfeit their security deposit.

Receive an agreement

No matter which route you take to break your lease, make sure to receive a written termination agreement that outlines all the factors of the break.