Jan 8 2018 37430 1

Dated: 01/08/2018

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How Difficult Is It to Break a Lease?

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CreditNadia Pillon

Q. My wife and I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in Long Island City, Queens. We are thinking about moving next spring, months before our lease expires. Our landlord informed us that if we break the lease, we would either incur a penalty equal to one and a half month’s rent, or be held responsible for the rent until the space is rented to someone else or the lease expires. We see no reference to such a penalty in our lease. What advice do you have for avoiding these penalties or negotiating more favorable terms?

A. Sign a rent-stabilized or market-rate lease and you are bound to its terms. Unless the apartment is rendered uninhabitable because of poor conditions, your only way out would be to sign a written agreement with the landlord terminating the lease. “New York law is unforgiving to tenants who want to break their lease,” said Jennifer Addonizio Rozen, a Manhattan tenant lawyer.

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Your landlord is offering you a way out: Pay the hefty fee and you can terminate the lease. This is not a penalty found in your lease, but instead an offer to let you out of it.

This type of agreement would not be found in the lease. Instead, “That would be a separate contract where your landlord would accept something in exchange for releasing you from all liability under the lease, ” Ms. Rozen said.

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If you don’t take the offer, the landlord does not have to re-rent the apartment and could continue to try to collect rent from you until the lease expires. If you don’t pay, the landlord could sue you.

You do have some other options. You could ask to assign the remainder of the lease to a new tenant. “But that should be done very carefully,” Ms. Rozen said. “And in accordance with the law.” If you are able to assign the lease, the agreement would be directly between the new tenant and the landlord. You would be “out of the picture completely,” Ms. Rozen said. Companies like PadSpin can help find a replacement tenant if your landlord is willing to agree to a lease assignment.

You could also try to find someone to sublet, using a company like Flip. Although both rent-stabilized and market-rate tenants have the right to sublet, rent-stabilized tenants must show that they intend to return to the apartment at the end of the sublet. (So if you don’t plan to return, subletting would not be a viable option.) If you do sublet, you would still be responsible for the rent if your subtenant failed to pay.

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