How to break a lease in New York (and the possible consequences)

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how to break a lease

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Some landlords now offer great incentives to lure tenants who have temporarily left the city because of COVID-19. But many tenants who feel that suburban pull are wondering, “how can I get out of my NYC lease?” Don’t panic! Even if you still have several months for your rental, there may be a way out. Here are some important things to consider if you are trying to figure out how to break a lease.

Note: This guide is for informational purposes only. This remedy does not replace the advice or service of a lawyer; you should not rely on this remedy for any use without consulting with an authorized attorney in your jurisdiction.

How To Get Out Of A Rent Legally

Technically a lease is a legally binding contract. You are willing to pay for the duration of the lease terms. Here are some key things to consider about leases if you are hoping to break yours.

  • Put it in writing. If you’re asking for a lease release, always do it in writing, he says longtime NYC tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein. “The first step is to write a letter to the landlord saying you would like to transfer ownership of the apartment,” Himmelstein tells StreetEasy. “While this doesn’t guarantee you’re excited, it’s still starting the legal process of breaking a lease.”
  • Understand the legal duties of the landlord. “If a landlord sues a tenant for a break of tenancy, one prerequisite is that they must mitigate their damages,” Himmelstein says. “So your letter triggers the landlord’s duty to make a ‘reasonable and customary’ effort to rent. The unit. If they don’t do that, and they sue for breach of lease, the case will be dismissed.”
  • Know the legal reasons to bail. To protect tenants, there are reasonable claims to break a lease without penalty. “If your building is in dire need of repair, for example, you have the legal right to leave your apartment and not pay,” Himmelstein says. “If the master doesn’t do his job, you don’t have to stay.” Financial distress, however, is not one of those reasons.

What To Do If Your Landlord Doesn’t Break Your Rent

So you wrote a letter asking to break your lease, and your landlord will not give up. Now what? Here are some tactics you can try.

  • Negotiate. If you ask to break your lease and you get a hard “no,” ask what the landlord is is willing to do. They may be willing to lower your rent or offer another type of concession. “When I faced financial hardship, I asked for a reduction in rents because other units in my building paid less,” says Ali Puliti, a resident of Battery Park City. “They wouldn’t lower my rent, but they offered a payment plan.”
  • Offer to find a replacement tenant. To break your lease to attract more of your landlord, consider finding them another tenant to replace you. They may refuse consent on a reasonable basis (as if they don’t think the new tenant is financially viable), but it’s worth a shot. Important note: You cannot reassign your lease to a new tenant if you are renting in a co-op or apartment.
  • Sublocks. Andrea Shapiro, Director of Program and Advertising for the tenants’ advocacy group Met Housing Council, realizes that you are also allowed to sublet your apartment. (Again, this is not the case if renting in a co-op or apartment.) “A landlord must request additional information within 10 days of a written request for a lease,” Shapiro told StreetEasy. “They have 30 days after the initial request to make a decision. If they fail to do so, that is by default consent.” Remember that with a sublease, as opposed to a lease reassignment, you are legally paid if the sublease does not do so.
  • Hire a tenant lawyer. Housing lawsuits are complicated, and you may want to hire a landlord to consider your case. This option, however, is not cheap. Expect to pay about $ 1,500 retainer for a non-processed case and between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 for a processed case. Most leases specify that the one who loses the case is bound for the other party’s legal fees. So you could pay nothing if you win, or much more if you lose.
  • Contact a proper tenant organization. Fortunately tenant rights organizations as the Met Council, Make the Way to New York, and the Legal Aid Society can provide free services and advice. “We have a fast phone to answer questions from tenants about their housing situation,” says Shapiro.
  • Try the Farm-Renting Intermediate Project. The city has implemented several protections and services for tenants on COVID-19. One, the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Project, helps tenants and landlords solve problems outside a residential court. And it’s free.

The consequences (and cost) of breaking a lease

Whether you have come up with an agreement with your landlord or plan to simply relocate and stop paying rent, there are financial and legal consequences. Some options to consider:

  • You may owe a penalty payment or lose your security deposit. In many cases, a landlord will let you out of your lease early if you pay a down payment. The amount may vary. For Puliti, it was a two-month rent, in addition to everything she owed until her relocation. When Andrew Green, a Greenwich Village resident, broke his lease, he says, all he had to pay was his monthly security deposit.
  • You may be prosecuted. If a landlord did everything legally for themselves, they could choose to prosecute you for violating a lease. “If the landlord wins, you would be engaged during the unpaid months, plus attorney fees,” Himmelstein says.
  • Your credit score could be damaged. Teicallynike your landlord could refer you to the lenders if you are delinquent in your payments. And if a collection agency is employed, any debt collection could end up according to your credit report. But this is unlikely, Himmelstein says, “I don’t think most landlords report rent to credit bureaus, and they should go out of their way to report delinquent payments.”

Is It Easier To Break A Rent Now Because Of COVID?

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 makes housing easier. While everyone understands that people face extreme circumstances, patterns also hurt. But, according to brokers, many of them are trying to figure out a happy remedy.

“I’ve talked to landlords who don’t believe a lease weighs much at the moment,” Becki Danchik of Warburg Realty says StreetEasy. “If a tenant needs to break it because of something related to COVID-19, it’s pretty hard to hold someone to it.”

Compass agent Philip Scheinfeld adds, “Landlords are people too. They can be more understanding than people think, especially during a pandemic, when tenants may have lost their jobs. Sincere conversation can result in a positive outcome.”

That said, if you are prosecuted for a rental violation, renting attorneys hope the courts will be more lenient than usual on financial difficulties, depending on the circumstances. “We will argue that this situation is different from anything in modern history,” Himmelstein says. “This is not just an ordinary economic hardship. This is a government, economic and health crisis. The law has historically not been good. But we hope the courts will be more sympathetic. “

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