Our Guide to Breaking a Lease in NYC

The PropertyClub Team
Apr 8th 2019
Breaking a lease in NYC can be tricky, especially if you want to avoid costly fees. This guide will explore your options from an apartment lease break to an assignment, where a new tenant will takeover the remainder of your contract.

Whether you’ve outgrown your space and want to find a new place, lost your job and can no longer afford the rent, or are moving to another city for work, breaking your lease can be a serious headache in NYC. We’ll walk you through all the available options from breaking or assigning your lease to subletting your apartment for the remainder of your term.

A lease is a binding legal contract, and your landlord has no obligation to let you out. Even if you may think it’s in your landlord’s best interest to let you out of the lease, that likely won’t happen. New York City landlords are notoriously conservative when it comes to financial matters, so even if you may see other apartments like yours renting for hundreds of dollars more per month, it’s improbable that your landlord will let you out without any obligation. Doing so would mean they’d have to bear the costs involved with finding a replacement tenant as well risking to have the apartment sit empty without collecting rent. 

How to break a lease in NYC

The first thing you should do is to review your lease. Is there an opt-out clause? Does it contain details specific to subletting or breaking your lease? Does it detail the fees involved? 

After reviewing your lease, you’ll need to speak with your landlord. Explain your situation and see what your options are. Landlords understand that it’s in their best interest to have a tenant who is happy, stable, and financially secure in place, and will likely have a specific policy in place for how you can get out of your lease. Most commonly, they will ask you to either find a new tenant for an apartment lease takeover via a lease assignment or to find someone to sign a brand new lease with them before they let you break your contract and surrender the apartment.

Many leases will have an out clause, essentially allowing you to pay to break the contract. This fee can range from anywhere between a thousand bucks to 3+ months rent but is typically set at either 1 or 2 months rent. You’ll also likely need to give your landlord at least 30 days’ notice of your intention to break the lease. An alternative in many cases is to find a replacement tenant to sign a new lease in your place. In this instance, you’ll need to market your apartment and find a suitable candidate to present to your landlord. They’ll sign a new 12-month lease at the market rate, and then your contract with the landlord will be broken. It used to be that most landlords wouldn’t charge you a fee in this scenario, but nowadays, fees ranging from $250 to $1000+ are commonplace.  

Tip: Make sure you follow all landlord procedures and are clear with your intentions. Let your landlord know that you will be actively working on getting out of your lease and ask for their permission in writing. Many times tenants will ask their landlord if they can break or assign their lease, but not follow the proper procedures, delaying the process significantly. The last thing you want is to find someone who wants to move in only to be told that their application can’t be processed until you send a certified letter to your landlord’s corporate headquarters formally asking for permission to assign/break your lease. 

How to do a lease assignment in NYC

A common alternative to breaking your lease is to assign your existing contract to a new tenant. This is similar to finding a new tenant to sign a new lease, except for the fact that they’ll just be taking over your existing contractual obligations. Some landlords may force your hand and accept either only an assignment or only a break with a tenant signing a new 12-month contract, so make sure you speak with your landlord to find out what your options are before you start marketing your place. The advantages of a lease assignment are that the incoming tenant will generally be grandfathered into your current rental price, which will typically be lower than current market rates, and that you’ll typically have lower fees associated with an assignment. The main disadvantage of a lease assignment is that the unit is usually rented “as-is,” meaning the landlord won’t come in and clean, prep, and paint before the new tenant moves in. This, combined with the fact that the term will likely be for a shorter period of time than a traditional 12 month, might make it less attractive to prospective renters. That being said, a NYC lease takeover can work well for anyone who is looking for a shorter-term, as prices will be significantly lower than other short-term rentals. One thing to note is that many landlords do charge a lease assignment fee that typically ranges from $250-$750+. 

Subleasing for the remainder of your lease

While some owners may not entertain a lease break or assignment (they have the legal right to refuse any such request outright), you are entitled to a right to ask for a sublet in NYC (the landlord does have the right to charge an additional 10% sublet fee). It’s rare, however, that an owner would prefer a sublease over a lease break or lease assignment as those are typically cleaner for everyone involved. Sublets involve an added element of risk for all parties. For you “the sublessor,” you’ll still be responsible to the landlord for the apartment and rent, so if the new tenant “the sublessee” skips rent payments, damaged the apartment, or overstays the lease you may be on the hook. For the sublessee, there’s typically an element of uncertainty as there is no long-term guarantee that the landlord will offer them a new lease. The landlord also usually incurs additional risk as they do may not necessarily get to qualify and screen a sublessee as thoroughly as they’d like (sublets typically do not go through the standard application process with the landlord and sublessees, therefore, do not have to meet the landlord’s income requirements). 

How to find someone to take over your apartment lease?

Whether you decide to go for a lease break, assignment, or sublet, it can be challenging to find someone to takeover your lease in NYC. You'll need to move quickly and market your apartment in as many places as possible. There are numerous websites where you can list your place including LeaseBreak, Craigslist, Renthop, Flip, and Facebook groups like Ghostlight Housing. You can also post your apartment on StreetEasy, but the fee to do so is relatively high. That being said, Streeteasy is the largest real estate website in NYC.

Tip- Depending on the time of year, your urgency, and the term of your contract you may want to consider offering a concession. This can help make your place more attractive as breaking a lease in NYC can be relatively time-consuming and challenging. If you will have difficulty showing the apartment or don't have the time to properly market it, you might also want to consider hiring a broker to help you rent the place. 

What’s the best option?

We always recommend trying to assign or break your lease as subletting presents additional risk. Do your best to find someone who wants to takeover your existing NYC apartment lease or to sign for 12-month term with your landlord. This will ensure you are no longer liable for the apartment once you move out. If you do decide to sublet, the safest thing you can do is to ask for additional security deposits or pre-payment of rent for the entire sublease upfront. It is also essential to get the landlord’s approval. Ideally, your landlord will put in writing that you will not be held accountable for any damages or monetary liabilities that occur upon the termination of your contract with the landlord (for example if the sublessee does not vacate the apartment and refuses to pay rent past the expiration of the lease).