A Guide to Breaking a Lease In New York

Is breaking a lease in New York legal? In some contexts, yes—but you’ll need to know the laws governing early termination rights to avoid losing money.
Written by Shannon Martin
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
There are several reasons a tenant may want to break their current lease. While finding a new job in a different location or finally saving up enough money to buy your own home may seem like a reasonable justification, often, it isn't. In
New York
, there are only a few legal reasons to break a lease, and if you are a renter, it is crucial to know what they are.
Lease and rental agreements are so common that we tend to forget what they really are—legally binding financial contracts that can have heavy penalties if broken. Most lease agreements will stipulate how a landlord will allow you to break a rental agreement without paying fines.
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In New York, there are five legal ways to break a lease where you can not be penalized:
  • Active Duty Military: Service members who are relocated or deployed have protection from
    The Service members Civil Relief Act(SCRA)
  • Unit is uninhabitable: If the landlord doesn't keep the unit in a condition that meets the health and safety guidelines required by New York, the tenant can break the lease and move.
  • Privacy violation or landlord harassment: Landlords must be respectful of the tenant's privacy and can not invade the space or harass tenants. Tenant harassment can include failing to maintain the property, threatening to contact immigration, physical and verbal intimidation, or entering the property without just cause.
  • Domestic violence: If a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, they can terminate their lease with court approval. The tenant will need to send the landlord a written notification along with documentation like an order of protection and a record of the incident from a health care provider.
  • Senior citizen or health issues: Tenants over the age of 62 who can no longer care for themselves and need to move in with family members or a care facility can be released from their lease without a penalty. The same would apply to people with health issues that can no longer care for themselves.
Experienced landlords know that their tenants will need to move at some point. Read your lease carefully, as most landlords include an early termination clause that outlines a notification timeframe that the tenant must give the landlord and how many months of rent will be due if the lease is broken. Some may just need 30 days' notice, while others may require the lease to be paid in full regardless of how much notice is given.

What are the penalties for breaking a lease in New York?

If you want to move in the middle of your lease and have a good relationship with your landlord, the best course of action is to speak with them directly. Offer to help them find a new tenant who meets their requirements. More times than not, this can solve the problem. 
This won't work with some landlords, especially if you rent from a corporation instead of an individual. If you have no choice and your situation demands that you must break your lease in New York, you may face some potential consequences:
  • You may be required to pay a fine that equals anywhere from one month's rent up to the remaining amount due on your lease term
  • May may lose your security deposit regardless of the condition of the unit
  • You can get sued for breaking the lease
  • While New York landlords can not use credit as a leasing qualification when you are looking for new housing, if your prior landlord has sent your past due rent to a credit collection agency, it will lower your credit score
  • Landlords in New York can not use prior rental history like breaking leases and evictions in determining your qualifications for a new apartment, but this information will still show up on your rental history, which can make finding new housing more difficult
  • You won't be able to use your landlord as a reference for a future apartment.
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How to break a lease without a penalty in New York

One of the benefits of having a month-to-month lease in New York is that you can move at almost any time without having to worry about a penalty. The requirement for both New York state and New York City month-to-month tenants is to give your landlord at least a 30 days' written notice before moving. 
While situations like buying a house, moving in with a partner, or relocating are understandable, they are not legally protected reasons to break a lease. Aside from the reasons listed in the prior section of this article, there aren't any other ways to break a lease in New York without a penalty unless your landlord simply chooses not to pursue legal action. Having a good relationship with your landlord is your best bet to avoid hefty fines and legal troubles. Here are some tips that may help:
  • Check your lease: Your lease should be very specific regarding how you can break it and what the penalties are. At least this way, you will know right away what you are responsible for.
  • Give your landlord notice as early as possible: The sooner the landlord can find your replacement, the sooner you can leave and not have to worry about fees or possibly paying double rent.
  • Sublet (if you're allowed to): Some leases allow for subletting while some strictly forbid it. If you are allowed to sublet or your lease doesn't mention it, check with your landlord and start looking for your replacement.
  • Negotiate: If you rent from a small landlord, one that owns just one or two properties, the odds are they can't afford you to up and move out of the blue. Talk with them, see if you can negotiate a partial payment, or maybe show them how a new tenant can afford to pay more than what you do currently.
No matter the reason, early communication and empathy will go far in helping you avoid lease termination fees. Keep in mind that plenty of landlords will fine you and make moving out difficult no matter what you do. 

How to save on renters insurance in New York

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New York had one of the most generous
eviction moratoriums
in the country, allowing tenants to say in their homes even if they could not pay rent. However, the state lifted this moratorium on January 22, 2022. If you want to learn more about the New York moratorium or still need help due to the financial impact COVID-19 has had on your housing situation, click
Yes, it can. If your landlord chooses to do so, they can have past due rent and fees sent to collections. Once an account is in collections, your credit score is impacted negatively. Click
to learn more about New York's Fair Consumer Judgment Interest Act for information on timeframes and interest regarding consumer debt.
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