How To Break A Lease

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Updated 06/23/2020

Apartment renters are often warned about the ominous consequences of breaking a lease, but sometimes life happens and you need to move sooner than expected. If you absolutely need to break a lease early, there may be some ways to minimize any potential consequences.

Step 1: Know the Exceptions

There are a few situations in which early termination of your lease is allowed without penalty under New York State law:

In any of these circumstances, you have to give your building owner written notice and proof of the reason you’re moving out. That could be copies of court documents, medical bills, or active duty orders. Keep copies of everything you send to your building manager for your personal records in case you need them in the future when trying to rent another apartment. Typically, it’s more difficult to break a lease without consequence in the winter months from November to February, due to changes in the housing market. It’s also advised to re-read your lease in full - negotiating with your landlord means understanding the current terms of your contract, and your landlord’s interests and responsibilities.

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Step 2: Find a New Tenant

If you’re not covered under one of the five exceptions to break a lease but still need to move, just hoping that the landlord finds someone to replace you isn’t your best option. An unexplained broken lease can impact your credit and make it harder for you to rent another apartment later on. Try to let your landlord know as soon as you can that you’re intending to break your lease and explain why you have to end your contract early. If possible, try to line up a tenant to take the apartment — if you have a good reason for moving and can make sure the landlord doesn’t lose out on their income, there’s a chance that you can simply leave on good terms.

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Step 3: Settle Up

Unfortunately, things aren’t always so smooth. If your landlord doesn’t want to work with you, you’re on the hook for a lease break fee, which tends to vary in cost. You can choose not to pay, but know that this makes you liable for a case in small claims court. The maximum settlement in small claims is $5,000, which could be less than the remainder of your lease, but that verdict against you may not look good on a future apartment application. Whatever agreement you and your landlord come to, be sure to get it in writing so that the terms are clear to both you and your landlord.

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Avoid Lease Issues Before They Happen

Breaking your lease is a method of last resort, but sometimes it’s your only course of action. Before it gets to the point of considering how to break a lease, and before you even sign a lease, make sure you have thoroughly read every document that your landlord has given to you. Don’t be afraid to ask the landlord to remove or amend anything that looks suspicious or confusing to you in any contract before you sign it. Establishing direct and frequent communication with your building manager and landlord company can be the best way to ensure that you are protected.

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