How To Break A Lease

Written by Cate Carrejo
Updated 12/16/2019

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

Step 1: Figure Out How To Break Your Lease With No Penalties

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

  • If you or your child is a victim of domestic abuse

  • if you are 62 years old or older and have to move into an assisted living facility 

  • If you’ve been called up to start active military duty 

  • If your building is deemed unsafe or in violation of health codes 

  • If your landlord harasses you or violates your tenant rights

In any of these five circumstances, you have to give your building owner written notice and proof of the reason you’re moving out. That might 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 again.

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Step 2: Tenant Swap

If you’re not covered under one of those five exceptions but still need to move, ghosting your lease and just hoping the landlord finds a tenant to replace you definitely isn’t your best option. An unexplained broken lease can impact your credit and make it harder for you to rent another apartment down the line. 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 income, there’s a chance that you can simply leave on good terms. 

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Step 3: Settle Up

Unfortunately, things can’t always be so smooth. If your landlord doesn’t want to work with you, you’re on the hook either for a lease break fee of usually two to three months’ rent, or for the entire remaining value of your lease. You can choose not to pay, making you liable for a case in small claims court. The maximum settlement is $5000 and could be a lot less than the remainder of your lease, but that verdict against you doesn’t look good on a future apartment application. 

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, make sure you’re communicating frequently with your building manager to talk through any disagreements and misunderstandings.

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