How to Break Your Apartment Lease in NYC

May 26, 2013

So you want to break your rental apartment lease. Maybe that new NYC apartment you moved into six months ago isn't looking nearly as appealing now. Maybe you just scored an amazing new job in another city. Maybe the neighbors have loud, angry fights and equally loud makeup "sessions" every Tuesday night. And maybe the view just isn't as pretty as it was before all that jackhammering construction started.

[caption id="attachment_2055" align="alignnone" width="266"]Breaking a Lease View from NYC I can't TAKE IT ANYMORE.[/caption]

Regardless of your reasoning, you're looking to break your lease and move out. So how do you go about it?

How to Get Out of a Lease in NYC: The Basics

There are several causes for which you can typically argue that your lease is void without paying for the rest of it. These rules apply for NYC as well as the rest of the U.S. rental market.

Your Housing Situation is Unlivable

If your apartment is uninhabitable or not up to the standards of the city regulations, you can break a lease without fear of payment.  Hazards that the city would consider uninhabitable include extreme levels of noise, lack of fire escapes, missing or broken windows, infestations of bugs or mold, or broken locks. Given that you've raised your concerns with your landlord (keep records) and your landlord has failed to respond, you can take the matter to a civil court and easily be rid of your lease. Which brings me to my next point....

"Profound Change of Life" Status

Profound change of life indicates situations such as being called to military service, hospitalization, major injury, prison, or mental illness, or death (unsurprisingly). Any of these would qualify you to break your lease. However, seeing as none of these are probably the path you wanted to go when you were looking to break your lease, I'd say that intentionally inflicting these options on yourself would be an absolutely terrible idea.

Bankruptcy

Again, this depends on the city. If you can declare bankruptcy, you can typically get out of a lease, depending on the decree of bankruptcy and the wording on the lease. We hope you're not facing bankruptcy, but if you live in NYC and you're broke, it's probably an option that you'll find available.

Breaking A Rental Lease:  Find a Replacement

If you're looking to break your apartment rental lease and none of the above qualifications match your status, don't worry! There's another, much more active way to go about this: If you can find a replacement lessee to take over your apartment until your lease is over, then in NYC the landlord is required to accept this new lessee as a replacement unless he/she has a "reasonable objection."

I know what you're about to ask, so here it is: reasonable objections include things like a new tenant who plans to pay less rent than the original lessee (pretty obvious), a prospective replacement tenant with a criminal background, and so on -- you get the picture. Therefore, if you want a surefire way to get out of your lease, play broker and go on the hunt for apartment leasers who are willing to pay equivalent (or optimally more) rent for your apartment, and make sure they check out before sending them to your landlord.

Think that's impossible? In a competitive New York City rental market, with prices on rents continuing to climb, your lease terms may actually be a great deal for someone looking to move.

Your Last Resort to Break An Apartment Lease

Alright, you don't match any of the above criteria and you can't find a replacement.

[caption id="attachment_2056" align="alignnone" width="230"]Break an Apartment Lease Sad Dog What do, man?[/caption]

You can still break your lease and leave: just be aware you'll likely still be paying for the rent for the rest of its duration. If the landlord can manage to find another tenant to move in after you vacate, the rent of the replacement tenant will automatically reduce your payments.

The rules on the landlord's responsibility in this situation differ not only by city, but in New York City's case, by borough. Due to appellate court rulings, in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, landlords must put in a "reasonable effort" to find other tenants for your evacuated apartment. However, in Manhattan and the Bronx, the landlords aren't required to do so: they can just leave your room empty and collect your lease anyways without making any effort to replace you. It's not fun, but that's how it is.

Realistically, unless they thought they could squeeze considerably more rent out of a replacement tenant, why would the landlord or management company really go through the hassle of finding a tenant to fill your empty apartment when you're still on the hook for the remainder of the lease? Again, as advised above, in this situation you've got to take matters into your own hands and find a suitable tenant to replace you, so you can get the hell outta there.

[caption id="attachment_2057" align="alignnone" width="232"]Cute Pig Break a Lease Sucks, man. Shoulda gotten red rainboots.[/caption]

You're now prepared for the wide, expansive, and generally stressful world of breaking your lease. Go out and spread the word!

Oh, and assuming you're breaking your lease so you can trade up to a better pad, find your next apartment for rent on Rentenna.