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How to End a Lease on an Apartment in New York City

Posted by Akinade47 on February 1, 2023

In New York City, signing a lease is generally a reason for celebration. You’ve located a spot! You cannot be expelled! But with every commitment comes responsibility, and in this city, signing a lease typically entails a significant monetary one:

You are obligated by law to pay rent for the whole period of the lease when you sign one. Usually 12 months, but it could be longer.

However, you can’t simply walk away from your apartment if you have to move out before the end of your contract without paying a penalty.

Many people found during the height of the pandemic that it would not be as simple to break your lease as you had hoped.

The good news is that a landlord has a responsibility to minimize damages, which requires them to make every effort to locate a replacement renter willing to pay the same rent or the market rate, whichever is less.

If the market is extremely competitive, they may decide to raise the rent, but by doing so they release you—the original tenant—from responsibility.

“Despite the fact that landlords are expected to reduce losses by reletting, you can still be responsible for the balance of the contract.

You have to come up with a cause for the landlord to agree to let you go, or you have to find something the landlord did to violate the contract, the man advises.

The goal of the law is to bring landlords and tenants together and provide them both an incentive to locate a new tenant who can take over the lease of the unit and fits the income standards of the building. Here is information about breaking your lease, including instructions.

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Request to be let go (in writing)

The most formal way to inform your landlord or management firm that you intend to break your lease is to send a letter via registered mail, but you should check your lease to see how you should contact your landlord.

Your problem should be explained in the letter. Ask about your options, being frank and transparent.

Always go to those landlords initially because some of them will behave sensibly.

Sam Himmelstein, a tenant attorney and partner at the Manhattan law firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph LLP, says they might ask you to find a replacement or grant them regular access to the apartment so they can advertise it and show it to potential tenants (and also a Brick sponsor).

Even while it’s rather normal to break a lease early and there isn’t a set policy for doing so, most larger landlords will have some sort of general rule and procedure. Smaller, independent landlords are more likely to react individually to each situation.


The founder of Leasebreak, a free listing website for short-term rentals and lease breaks, Phil Horigan, claims that “big landlords all have a protocol since they’ve been asked to do it a thousand times.”

They’ll respond, ‘Sure, we permit it. There is a very particular technique to accomplish things.

Allowing does not imply that you should disregard your legal obligation to pay rent. Rory Bolger, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens, however, advises that as long as there is no lost rent, you might be okay.

For instance, a larger landlord might have a tenant who needs to move out, upsize, or even move into another apartment with dates and conditions that work for you.

Ask your landlord “for any suggestions they might have that would allow you to get out of the lease,” suggests Gus Waite, managing broker at Station Cities.

They might let you go with a penalty, they might ask you to locate a suitable renter, or they might keep you on the hook until they re-rent the property.

The key in this case, as in every circumstance where you leave early, is to have your landlord sign a “surrender agreement” that contains language that formally releases you from the lease, according to Wagner.

Find a different tenant

You are aware of a person who wants to move into your home when you decide to leave, then. Right, the issue is resolved. possibly not Actually, most likely not.

The majority of landlords will want to accept the new tenant coming into their building, but that doesn’t mean they have to like them: Renters must meet the landlord’s financial requirements and pass any further screening procedures that may be in place.

The usual requirements include having a clean credit history, a yearly income that is 40–45 times the monthly rent, and evidence of employment.

According to Wagner, “A landlord is permitted to refuse consent, and they have to present a solid cause or fair justification for the rejection.”

What is reasonable will depend on the specific facts and circumstances, such as the new tenant’s financial responsibility, the legality of the proposed use, and the nature of the occupancy.

For instance, if the new tenant wants to use the apartment as a psychiatrist’s office, that could be a reasonable reason for refusal.

A guide on what constitutes a fair or unjust denial is available from the Met Council on Housing, a tenant rights organization in New York City.

Himmelstein notes

that even if you sublet a room, you are still liable for the rent and all other contractual requirements. “And the tenant cannot proceed with the subletting if the landlord refuses to consent in a reasonable manner—and it is frequently unclear what that means.

“You can proceed with the subletting, but the landlord might fight it in court if the landlord arbitrarily refuses to agree to it,” he advises.

Horigan notes

that a 30-day time limit isn’t very useful when there is competition for rentals. Few renters, if any, can wait 30 days for a landlord to decide, according to him.

Therefore, he advises following up with the property owner or leasing agent and attempting to negotiate with them to accomplish the result you desire if you don’t get a response.

Landlords have become less generous over the previous year, but if you were given one or two months free, the next tenant is unlikely to receive the same benefit.

You will probably have to give up the free months if they fall at the conclusion of your lease term when you try to re-rent the unit.

One caveat:

If you rent in a co-op or condo building, the right to assign your lease isn’t applicable, but in these situations, you typically deal with individual owners who don’t want to involve attorneys and are inclined to be reasonable.

Boards, on the other hand, have their own regulations and may not let the owner to re-rent to a new tenant for a term that is less than a year, or they may demand that the owner only have one tenant each 12-month period. Usually, this can be worked out, but it’s still a good idea to double-check.

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If possible, avoid breaking your lease during the winter

It’s more difficult to break your lease in the winter because that is when rentals are at their lowest volume. The slowest season for rentals is from November through February or March.

In the summer, it will be simpler for you and your landlord to find a new tenant. According to Horigan, winter rents can range from 10 to 30 percent lower, and the landlord may need to make further accommodations to occupy the space.

According to Horigan

it is often better to break your lease when rent costs are rising because landlords are motivated to find new renters more quickly and for more money.

Having said that, it can also depend on the number of comparable apartments the landlord is attempting to rent.

If a building has five one-bedroom units available for the month of July and you decide to add another one to the mix, Bolger claims that it can sometimes be expensive for the landlord to add another unit to the market.

A landlord would welcome it if you can find a new 12-month renter with a summer start, when prices are substantially higher, if your lease expires in the slower winter months and you are wanting to break it in the summer.

It can assist persuade the landlord to cooperate with you because “the smaller landlords are not always thinking about this,” according to Horigan.

The majority of renters begin their search for housing 60 days in advance, and for full-service luxury apartments, up to 90 days. The unit should be advertised 60 days before the lease expires, according to Bolger.

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Technically, your security deposit is secure

If you want to break your lease, the landlord has to make every effort to assist you in finding a new renter.

Although it caused some ambiguity when it was passed in 2019, this is spelled out in the law with the intention of rewarding both tenants and landlords equally. Your security deposit is therefore not necessarily at jeopardy.

According to Ellen Davidson

A staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society in New York, landlords would have less motivation to try to limit damages by re-renting the flat if they could keep the security deposit anytime a tenant broke their lease.

She asserts that because you broke your lease, the landlord cannot keep your security deposit.

It is a “overstatement,” according to Wagner, to claim that your security deposit is secure.

Although the possibility of a tenant being sued for breaching a lease has decreased, according to him, damages may still include painting the apartment, paying a brokerage to rerent it, and paying for missed let.

Of course, if there are unpaid utility bills or damage to the flat, your security deposit is still at risk.

It is true that landlords are required to conduct a walk-through at the end of a tenancy, list any damage, give you a chance to make any repairs, and refund your money—less any repair costs—within 14 days of the tenancy coming to an end. A landlord loses all claim to your security deposit if that isn’t done.

Be ready for additional financial repercussions

You may still be subject to some sort of penalty for breaking your lease, even if your security deposit is probably refundable provided your apartment is clean, undamaged, and there are a functional set of keys.

According to Wagner, “A lease is a contract, thus contract damages would apply, subject to the regulations providing mitigation.”

A lease-break clause is not likely to be part of your lease unless you specifically agreed to one before you started renting. If it is, it might, however, specify monetary fines if the lease is broken during the slower winter months or if you are rigid about displaying the flat to new tenants.

For a set amount, one modest NYC landlord claims to offer to break a tenant’s contract early.

He is one of many landlords who believe that when it comes to breaking a lease early, tenants “appreciate clarity” and that they expect to be charged a fee if the provisions of the agreement are not followed.

Cleaning or painting expenses could be extra expenditures you have to pay, regardless of whether your contract has a lease-break clause.

Your landlord should not be dealing with an unexpected paint job as the maintenance housing code mandates painting every three years, but Davidson points out that this is “not a requirement that’s usually observed.”

If your landlord asserts that he wants payment for an unanticipated flat repaint, you can be in for a fight.

Investigate the price your landlord is advertising your apartment for. The landlord has broken the law, which specifies that they have an obligation to minimize damages, if you were paying $2,500 and it is posted for $3,000 instead.

Sometimes Himmelstein advises asking a friend to acquire information on the apartment and ask the broker how much it is being rented for. According to him, if it is being advertised for more than the going rate, the renter is not responsible “because you have a failure to mitigate.”

Of Nevertheless, if the new rate is less, you might be responsible for paying the difference between your current rent and the new rent.

Also Read: Whats a Short Sale in Real Estate?

What is the tenant blacklist all about?

According to rental legislation, a tenant cannot be turned down for an apartment simply based on a tenant blacklist. This suggests that, in theory, you shouldn’t be scared when it comes to retaliating if a landlord is demanding costs.

The prohibition on accessing data from the NYC Housing Court does, however, have some practical exceptions. It’s “unenforceable,” according to Frisch.

He claims that since landlords are only permitted to request a one-month security deposit, it may be more challenging for those with less-than-perfect credit to secure homes in NYC. He also claims that landlords will discover ways to screen potential tenants.

What to say to convince someone to leave constructively

You might have a case for constructive eviction if you’re leaving the flat early due to major issues like mold, bed bugs, lead paint, or construction noise. In this situation, you would argue that the landlord breached the assurance of habitability.

It can be considered harassment if a landlord refuses to fix problems like mold or lead paint, according to Wagner. The good news is that in this area, tenant protections have improved. According to him, there is a special legal clause that allows the renter to request legal fees in these situations.

You must evict yourself before you can assert constructive eviction. According to Wagner, “This is risky business because if you are wrong, you have to pay the rent.” Therefore, it is essential to remain and record the issues before leaving.

Call 311 and ask the Department of Buildings or Housing Preservation and Development to visit, advises Wagner. “If they issue violations, that is concrete evidence of the circumstances.”

Through the Department of Buildings, you could conduct a thorough investigation to learn whether the structure has any violations, whether any apartments have been forcibly deregulated, whether the building’s façade or boiler is inefficient, or whether the building’s certificate of occupancy is appropriate for its intended use.

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