New York law has several different guidelines when it comes to breaking a lease agreement. Depending on the case, the landlord or property manager may be able to recover the money they lost if the tenant ends the agreement without a valid reason.
If you're wondering how New York state law works for those who want to break a lease early, you've come to the right place. Here, you will learn everything about the necessary notice requirements, the consequences of breaking a lease, and what alternatives you have available as a landlord.
What Are the Notice Requirements?
Tenants in New York are required by law to provide notice to their landlord. The amount of notice will depend on the term both parties have:
- Monthly Lease Inside New York City: 30 days of notice.
- Monthly Lease Outside New York City: At least one month of notice.
On the other hand, tenants aren't required to provide any notice for fixed-term leases.
As for delivering the notice letter, landlords have the right to choose the method that fits their needs the best. Some of the most popular ones include delivering the letter in person or using certified mail.
Tenants should talk to their landlords to see which method they prefer.
Lease Break Process
Tenants may be able to break a lease in exchange for a few penalty fees. In other cases, they may end the lease without any legal consequences, as long as they meet one of the following scenarios:
Early Termination Clause
An "Early Termination Clause" outlines all the conditions that tenants need to meet before breaking a lease. Moreover, it will explain the consequences of ending the lease without a valid reason, which often comes in the form of penalties.
Active Military Duty
Tenants protected by the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) could end their lease without penalty if they're able to prove a few things to their landlord.
Overall, the tenant must send a written notice to their landlord, as well as a copy of the deployment or change-of-station orders. Furthermore, the tenant must be able to prove that they entered active duty after signing the lease and that they will remain on duty for at least 90 days.
Those who can apply to the SCRA's protection program include members and commissioned corps of the:
- Armed Forces
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Activated National Guard
- Public Health Service
Landlords have the legal obligation of providing habitable premises to all their landlords. Some of these obligations include:
- Keeping all appliances and systems in good/safe working order.
- Keeping public areas in a sanitary condition and in good repair.
Not being able to comply with New York's habitability laws could result in different legal consequences for the landlord. Moreover, if the tenant considers the landlord isn't complying with the lease's terms, they may be able to break it without paying penalties.
Tenants who believe they're being harassed by their landlord may be able to break the lease if they can prove the violation is severe enough. Some of these severe situations include:
- Entering the property continually without any notice.
- Locking out the tenant without any valid reason.
Victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual abuse get protection from the state. One of these protective measures includes being able to break the lease without penalty.
In order to end the lease under this argument, the tenant must send proper notice to their landlord and prove their domestic violence status. They can use a copy of an order of protection or any other approved document from a healthcare provider or a qualified third party.
Senior Citizen Housing
Any tenants who are 62 years or older may be able to end their lease if they get a report from a physician that states they're no longer able to live independently, meaning they must relocate to a residential health care facility, a subsidized low-income property, or to a family member's residence. This also applies if the tenant lives with a spouse that meets these conditions.
Ending a Lease Term Early
Tenants may also be able to end their lease early by using one of the following arguments. However, they may need to get the case reviewed and approved by a court before getting legal protections:
- The landlord failed to provide the mandatory disclosures required by New York law.
- The property manager or landlord used an illegal or unenforceable contract.
- The landlord repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement.
Reasons That Don't Protect Tenants
The following list includes arguments that may not allow tenants to break the lease without paying a penalty. Overall, these reasons may not provide enough justification on their own to end the agreement, so they may not give legal protection to the tenant:
- Buying a new house.
- Relocating for a new school or job.
- Criminal activity around the area.
- Moving in with a family member, partner, or close friend.
- Moving to be closer to family or friends.
- Moving out because of a divorce or separation.
- Upsizing or downsizing.
Do Landlords Get Compensated?
Landlords can get compensated in several ways once a tenant breaks the lease. First, they can charge their tenants a penalty fee for the amount of money they owe, which is one of the most common cases.
Other landlords decide to charge advertisement and re-renting expenses so that they can find a replacement faster. Finally, they can take the case to a small claims court to get the money they deserve. The limit in New York is $5,000 or $3,000 in village/town courts.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself whenever a tenant breaks a lease is to include an "Early Termination Clause" in your agreement. Here, you must be as clear as possible when outlining the consequences of leaving the rental unit early, as that will make the tenant less likely to end the lease abruptly.
Another thing you can do to prevent tenants from breaking their lease is to communicate with them. If they send an appropriate notice when they're planning to move out, you may be able to come up with a better plan to get the money you need to cover the entire term.
Finally, you may negotiate with your tenant to see which "healthier" options are available. If the tenant is able to provide a good reason as to why they need to leave the property before the lease expires, you may be more likely to re-negotiate the penalty fees.
Do Landlords Need to Re-rent Their Units to a New Tenant?
As of 2019, New York landlords are required to make "reasonable efforts" to re-rent the unit once the old tenant leaves. This can help tenants who have an NYC apartment lease, for example, where the penalty fees may be higher.
Overall, tenants will be liable for the amount of money the landlord loses when the property is vacant. If the landlord is able to find a new tenant, then the money they get in rent can get used to cover the old tenant's debt.
However, if the landlord fails to find a new tenant, the old one will still have to pay rent for the rest of the term. Typically, the landlord uses the tenant's security deposit to cover a portion of the debt or sues them in a small claims court.
Can Tenants Sublet the Property?
Tenants can sublet the property as long as they get their landlord's approval. Depending on the terms of the rental agreement, the tenant may have to send a request letter to their landlord explaining the case.
In most cases, it's recommended to send a letter through certified mail that also includes the proposed subtenant's information. Some landlords decide to accept the subletting request to get the money they're owed for the rest of the term.
On the other hand, the landlord may refuse the request but only if the refusal is based on reasonable factors. In other words, landlords can't refuse a subletting request based on discriminatory factors.
A lease break can quickly get overwhelming for both parties, especially if they're not prepared for it. In the case of landlords, the best thing you can do is include an "Early Termination Clause" in your new lease that addresses all the terms and conditions tenants need to follow if they want to end the agreement early.
Sometimes, ending a lease early won't relieve the tenant from their duty of paying rent, so it's essential that you review the terms of your document before taking any legal action.
On the other hand, if you're unsure of what to do once a tenant tries to break their lease, you can hire a landlord-tenant attorney.
Finally, make sure you draft a great lease agreement document to ensure that both parties have a healthy leasing relationship.
How Long After Signing a Lease Can the Tenant Back Out?
A new tenant can't back out of the lease after signing it without paying a penalty. The only exception to this rule is when the tenant uses a valid reason.
In periodic leases, the tenant must provide written notice to their landlord before leaving, according to what New York law states. On the other hand, fixed-end-date leases don't need notice, as they already have an expiration date.
Can Landlords Keep the Security Deposit as a Penalty?
Landlords can keep the tenant's security deposit as a penalty. If the deposit's amount isn't enough to cover the entire lease term, the landlord may sue the tenant in a small claims court.
Can Tenants Break a Lease Without Penalty in New York?
When it comes to breaking a lease, tenants may do it for any reason and at any point. However, if the tenant wants to end the lease agreement without a penalty, they must review the terms of the initial document and negotiate with their landlord.
On the other hand, tenants who meet one of the cases specified above may be able to avoid penalties when breaking a lease.
What Is a Constructive Eviction?
A tenant is considered "constructively evicted" when the landlord repeatedly violates the terms of the lease agreement. According to New York state law, a tenant that's constructively evicted is released from their duties in the lease, meaning they could leave the property without paying a penalty.
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