How to Get Out of Your Lease in New York City

Getting out of a lease is generally thought of as a stressful and expensive experience. Especially in New York, where the landlord’s “obligation to mitigate damages” isn’t the same as in most of the U.S. (see: 3 Steps to Legally Breaking a Lease). We’ve spent more than a few hours researching the problem and have some guidance for the steps you can and should take to get the freedom you want.

Much of the aggravation around the subject simply comes from a lack of understanding about what your rights are and what your landlord’s perspective is. For example, while many leases and landlords “strictly forbid” you from breaking your lease o subletting (or ask for a hefty penalty), according to New York Real Property Law 226-b, it’s actually perfectly legal if you follow these steps.

1: Read your lease

Look closely at your lease and see if it says something special about subletting or assigning. If your lease stipulates that you can’t transfer, or assign it to new tenant, well then your landlord is either lying or uninformed. If it says anything other than that (like gives you specific instructions on how to sublet) then you are in a better situation than most people. That’s because property law has more teeth than contract law unless the lease gives you more rights than the law.

2: Give 30 days notice

Believe us: if you are even thinking of splitting, you’ll want to get this letter ready. Proof that you provided 30 days notice gives you a lot more leverage.

Feel free to copy and paste this:

This letter is to formally notify you that I am required to break my lease before the stipulated termination date in the contract/subletting for the period [insert duration]. [Optional — insert reason for brownie points]
In my lease contract, it gives provision for early termination assuming landlord consent. According to New York property law, consent for sublease or assignment cannot be unreasonably withheld provided the current tenant provides notification 30 days in advance. The date you receive this letter will begin my thirty days notice.
I will send a similar letter with a proposed, qualified replacement tenant as soon as I find one.
You can contact me at [number] or at [email protected] if you have any questions or requests for me.

3: Find the next guy or gal

Right now you are on the hook for months of rent and you need not to be. There’s an obvious solution, folks. Find someone who wants to pay to live where you live!

The law says that your request to assign your lease to someone else — that means you are transferring it over to them — or sublet it can be refused if there is cause. “Cause” isn’t defined clearly anywhere so your best bet is to find someone who is as qualified as you in terms of financial reliability. Take a look at their credit score, income and any references.

4. Decide on a sublet, lease assignment or both

In New York if you ask to assign your lease to someone else and your landlord doesn’t want to do it they can ignore you and/or refuse. This is fine for you because by virtue of doing so they are releasing you from the lease. It’s not great for whoever you found to live there because they won’t be able to move in.

With a sublet, on the other hand, your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse your request. There are certain conditions that have to be met before you may sublet. In New York you are allowed to sublet if:

  • You are on the lease, duh.
  • You live in a building with 4 or more apartments. (This does not apply to Public/Section 8 Housing, or Co-Ops.)
  • Your sublet is at least 30 days

In this scenario, you need to sign an agreement with your sublessee that you feel good about and you should check out their finances so you are confident they won’t screw you over.

5. Present him or her

On a silver platter, if possible. No but seriously — the more clear and formal you are with your request the better you will fare. Make sure to include:

  • The name and permanent home or business address of the proposed tenant.
  • A valid credit report, background check, and proof of income from the proposed tenant.
  • The current tenant’s reason for leaving.
  • The written consent of any co-tenant or guarantor of the lease.
  • A copy of the current tenant’s lease, if available.

Within 10 days, your landlord may ask for more information regarding the prospective tenant, which you’re obliged to provide — granted it’s not too outrageous.

If they don’t respond to you within 30 days, withhold consent, or unreasonably deny your replacement, then there will be no lease assignment. However, given these conditions, you have the right to cancel your lease 30 days from your initial request or just go ahead and sublet.

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