Breaking a lease in NYC can be a challenge. Some landlords have simple lease-break fees, while others will make it impossible. The pandemic left thousands of New Yorkers reconsidering their living arrangements, meaning lease-breaks were on a lot of renters’ minds. Whatever the reason for thinking about breaking a lease, many renters were left with sometimes contentious negotiations with their landlords.
During the past year, we’ve received thousands of reviews from NYC tenants. Many have shared their own personal experiences with lease breaks. One renter shared, “I was able to break my lease but only after weeks of fighting with the building and laying out what my rights are as a tenant. It was an excruciating process.” Another renter wrote, “I lost my job due to COVID and had to break my lease. The landlord was flexible and responsive to working with me - we agreed on a lease break fee equal to one half of the monthly rent.”
So what are renters rights when it comes to breaking leases? These are 3 things you should know before trying to break a lease in NYC:
1. New rent laws require landlords to make a reasonable effort to re-rent an apartment.
In 2019, there were landmark rent reforms that shifted some responsibility to landlords when it comes to re-renting an apartment after a tenant breaks the lease. Landlords now have what’s called “a duty to mitigate". This means they need to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the apartment rather than simply taking you to court for unpaid rent.
2. If you’re breaking a lease voluntarily, notify your landlord in writing and try to find a replacement or sublet.
Communication is key. If you need to break a lease, notify your landlord as soon as possible. Try to find your own replacement or sublet for the apartment. This can make the negotiations a lot smoother! If that doesn’t work, you can try offering to pay a penalty (sometimes the security deposit, or 1-month’s rent). Some leases have a lease-break clause - double check to see if your lease already has one. If you need a different space or cheaper rent, offer to transfer your lease to another apartment in your landlord’s portfolio. This may make the landlord more open to working with you.
3. If you have to break a lease because of issues with the apartment, make sure everything is well documented.
Sometimes an apartment just isn’t safe to live in anymore. In these cases where a landlord has neglected their property and ignored maintenance requests for hazardous issues, you likely have a strong case to break your lease. This is called a constructive eviction. But be prepared to back up your claims before moving out. The violations alone may be enough for the landlord to let you out of your lease, but a disagreement could wind up in Housing Court. So it’s best to start documenting the conditions before moving out. For future leases, always be sure to document the condition of the apartment before you move-in as well!
There is no one way to break a lease in NYC. Every landlord is different and every situation is unique. But knowing your rights and communicating openly with your landlord is a good place to start!
Have you ever broken a lease? Was the landlord flexible? Be sure to share your experience on the openigloo app! Together, we can help NYC renters find and rent from the city’s best landlords.