Tenant’s Right to Break a Rental Lease in New York

by ECL Writer
New York Tenant's Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct”

When signing a lease for an apartment or rental property, many tenants want to occupy the space for the entire term specified in the agreement, such as a year. However, despite your best efforts, you could want to (or need to) leave your apartment before your lease expires. For instance, if you’re a student at NYU and want to stay in your apartment only while classes are in session. Or perhaps you’re relocating in with your partner. Moving is often necessary if you want to be near your new job or an older parent who requires your help. Breaking a lease is doing so prior to the end of a fixed-term agreement without paying the remaining rent owed. In this article, Eastcoastlaws.com will outline all you need to know about tenants’ right to break a rental lease in New York.

What Is A Lease

A lease is a contract between a landlord (lessor) and a tenant (lessee) that outlines the terms and conditions for the rental of property, such as a house, apartment, commercial space, or equipment. The lease specifies the rental payment, the length of the tenancy, the responsibilities of each party, and other relevant details. The tenant has the right to use the property for the term of the lease, while the landlord retains ownership.

Tenant Rights And Responsibilities When Signing A Lease In New York

A lease binds you and your landlord for a predetermined amount of time, typically one year. In a standard lease, the landlord cannot increase the rent or make other changes until the term of the lease expires (unless the lease itself provides for a change, such as a rent increase mid-lease). If you don’t pay the rent or break another important condition of the lease, such as consistently having loud parties, the landlord can’t make you vacate the premises before the lease expires. In certain circumstances, New York landlords are required to follow specified processes to terminate the tenancy.

For instance, before suing you for eviction, your landlord must give you fourteen days’ notice to pay the rent or vacate (New York Real Prop. Acts Law 711(2)). In New York City, if you are a holdover tenant, your landlord has the right to issue you an unconditional vacate notice with a 30-day notice period. (New York Real Property Law 232-a). With a few exceptions, as listed below, tenants are contractually obligated to pay rent for the whole lease term, which is normally one year.

When Breaking a Lease Is Justified in New York

The generalization that a tenant who breaches a lease is responsible for paying the rent for the remainder of the lease term has some significant exceptions. The following circumstances may make it permissible for you to vacate the property before the lease’s expiration date.

You or Your Child Are a Victim of Domestic Violence

Tenants who are the victims of domestic violence are entitled to early termination rights under state law (N.Y. Real Prop. Law 227-c), if certain requirements are met (such as the tenant securing a court order of protection).

You (or Your Spouse) Are 62 Years of Age or Older and Moving to a Residential Facility for Seniors

Tenants in New York who are 62 years of age or older who are unable to live independently and who must transfer into a nursing home or other senior housing have the right to seek early termination (N.Y. Real Prop. Law 227-a).

You Are Starting Active Military Duty

Federal law gives you the ability to end a lease if you enlist in the military after signing it. 50 App. U.S.C.A. 501 and subsequent (War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) You must be a member of the “uniformed services,” which also includes the National Guard, the commissioned corps of the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Public Health Service.

If you intend to end your lease due to a military obligation, you must notify your landlord in writing. Your tenancy will end 30 days after the date when rent is next due, even if that date comes before your lease expires, once the notice has been mailed or delivered.

The Rental Unit Is Unsafe or Violates New York Health or Safety Codes

A court would likely rule that you have been “constructively evicted” if your landlord does not provide habitable housing in accordance with local and state housing codes. This means that by providing unlivable housing, your landlord has effectively “evicted” you and you are no longer liable for rent. The procedures you must follow before leaving your apartment due to a significant repair issue are outlined in New York law (N.Y. Real Prop. Law 235-b, Semans Family Ltd. Partnership v. Kennedy, 675 N.Y.S.2d 489 (N.Y. City Civ. Ct., 1998) and Jagla Realty Co. v. Gravagna, 447 N.Y.S.2d 338 (Civ. Ct., Queen The issue must be seriously detrimental, such as when there is no heat or another necessary service.

Your Landlord Harasses You or Violates Your Privacy Rights

There is no state regulation in New York that dictates how much notice you need to provide your landlord before entering your rental home. You would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above, if your landlord repeatedly infringes on your right to privacy or takes actions like removing windows or doors, cutting off your utilities, or changing the locks. In this case, you could usually break the lease without being responsible for any additional rent.

Landlord’s Duty To Find A New Tenant In New York

In most places, when a tenant breaks a lease, a landlord must attempt to re-let the unit rather than bill the tenant for the entire amount of unpaid rent. As of July 2019, landlords in New York are required to “mitigate damages” by making a reasonable effort to rapidly rerent their properties. The obligation of the previous tenant to pay rent for the remaining portion of the initial lease period expires once the new renter starts making payments.

Don’t just leave your apartment in New York and hope your landlord finds a replacement renter fast and doesn’t charge you for the remaining time on your lease if you wish to break your lease but don’t have a legally valid reason, like one of those mentioned above. Give your landlord as much advance notice as you can, and include a sincere letter outlining your reasons for needing to vacate early. Ideally, you may present your landlord with a suitable substitute tenant who will sign a new lease and has good references and credit.

But bear in mind that you will be responsible for paying rent for the balance of your lease until the landlord finds a new renter if the landlord refuses to let you off the hook. If you vacate a few months before your lease expires if the market is weak, this might be a sizeable sum of money. Your security deposit will likely be applied to your debt by your landlord first. However, if your security deposit is insufficient, your landlord may sue you; the maximum judgment in small claims court in New York is $5,000 (or $3,000 in town and village courts).

How To Break A Lease With No Penalty Fees In New York

Breaking a lease in New York, as in any other state, requires a tenant to follow certain steps to minimize potential penalty fees and legal consequences. Below is a guide to help you break a lease in New York with no penalty fees.

  • Review your lease agreement: Before taking any action, it’s important to read your lease agreement thoroughly to understand the terms and conditions that govern your tenancy. Make sure you’re aware of any clauses or provisions that relate to breaking the lease and the consequences of doing so.
  • Check for early termination clauses: Some leases include early termination clauses, which allow you to break the lease without penalty if you meet specific conditions, such as if you’re relocating for work or if the unit becomes uninhabitable.
  • Provide written notice: If your lease agreement does not include an early termination clause, you’ll need to provide your landlord with written notice that you intend to break the lease. The amount of notice required will vary depending on the terms of your lease agreement, but typically, it’s 30 days.
  • Negotiate with your landlord: Once you’ve provided written notice, you can try to negotiate with your landlord to reach a mutually acceptable solution. This could involve finding a new tenant to take over your lease or paying a penalty fee in exchange for breaking the lease.
  • Consider the legal ramifications: If you break a lease in New York without following the proper steps, you may be held legally responsible for paying rent until the end of the lease term or until the landlord is able to find a new tenant. You may also be responsible for paying any damages resulting from your early termination of the lease.
  • Use protection provided by law: There are certain circumstances in which New York law provides protection to tenants who need to break their leases. For example, if the unit becomes uninhabitable or if you’re called to active military duty, you may be able to break your lease without penalty.
  • Seek legal advice: If you’re unsure about your rights or obligations as a tenant, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a legal professional. An attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities and can assist you in negotiating with your landlord.

Breaking a lease in New York can be a complex process, and it’s important to follow the proper steps to minimize potential penalties and legal consequences. By reviewing your lease agreement, negotiating with your landlord, and seeking legal advice if necessary, you can ensure that you take the right steps to break your lease with no penalty fees.

Note: This is general information and not legal advice. It’s always a good idea to seek the advice of a legal professional when dealing with complex legal matters.

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