So, you need to get out of your lease early—and it’s not for one of the specific reasons allowed by New York law. If you’re set on terminating your lease completely, rather than subletting or assigning to a new tenant, then it’s probably going to cost you. In almost all cases, landlords aren’t legally required to let you break your lease before the agreed-upon end date. That means they typically charge hefty early termination fees, or lease break fees, to release you from your lease.
Are lease break fees legal in New York City?
Yes. There are no laws that ban landlords from charging a lease break fee. Landlords are also allowed to include something called a “lease break provision” in the written lease, which is just a fancy term for laying out the price and process for early termination in the actual lease. But they don’t have to mention the fee in the lease. Unlike a lot of other common rental payments (late fees or security deposits, for instance), landlords can still charge a lease break fee if it’s not written down in your lease.
What is the typical penalty for breaking a lease in New York City?
There’s no one answer when it comes to early termination fees. They tend to be higher when your building is managed by a large property management firm. Some real-life examples we’ve found include:
- A landlord in Long Island City, Queens charged one-and-a-half months' rent
- A landlord in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn charged one month’s rent and required 30 days notice
- A landlord in Manhattan charged three months’ rent
One months’ rent is on the low end, while three to four months’ rent is generally the highest we’ve seen. Keep in mind, though, that New York landlords are now legally required to make an effort to re-rent your apartment after you leave (something known as “damage mitigation”). If the proposed fee is on the high end, you might be better off informing your landlord that you’re leaving and continuing to pay rent until they find a new tenant. In a strong rental market, like NYC, there’s a good chance most units will be re-rented in less than four months.
Can I try to negotiate the fee down?
Yes, definitely. You’ll probably have more luck if you are renting from a small landlord, though—big property management companies are often less flexible. There are a few things that will make your case stronger:
- You live in a rent-stabilized apartment, and you’ve been there for more than a year. If you break your lease, your landlord will have the opportunity to charge the new tenant a higher monthly rent than if you stayed.
- You’re leaving in the spring or summer, prime moving season in New York. If breaking your lease will improve the leasing schedule for your landlord, you might have some leverage.
- You’ve already found a qualified replacement tenant with credit scores and income that meet your landlord’s requirements.
Keep in mind, though, that your landlord is never required to let you break your lease. So, by all means, negotiate—but generally you’re in the weaker position. Don’t be so pushy that your landlord throws up their hands and walks away.
If I’m willing to pay, is my landlord legally required to let me break my lease?
Typically, no. A lease is a contract, and those are binding until the agreed-upon end date—unless both parties agree to break it off. (And while it may not seem like it right now, it’s actually really important for renters that leases are so ironclad. It keeps unscrupulous landlords from breaking leases whenever they feel like it and pushing out tenants for discriminatory reasons.) But you have other options if your landlord just isn’t interested in taking your money, including subletting or assigning.
All that goes out the window if you have a lease break provision written into your lease, however. Since you both agreed to the same procedure to break a lease, your landlord can’t walk back on that agreement now.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.