Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in New York, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by New York law to make reasonable effort to rerent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the notice requirements in New York to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in New York
In New York, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases (N.Y. RPL §§ 232-b). New York tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease term:
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. One month if outside New York City (N.Y. RPL §§ 232-b). If in New York City, 30 days notice is required (N.Y. RPL §§ 232-a).
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in New York
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in New York without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.
1. Early Termination Clause
Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).
If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.
2. Active Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.
To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:
- Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty
- Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days
- Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / PCS or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.
With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So for example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).
In New York, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and New York is no different.
If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs/fixes are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under New York landlord-tenant law. According to New York state law, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:
- Landlords of multiple dwellings must keep the apartments and the building’s public areas in “good repair” and clean and free of vermin, garbage or other offensive material.
- Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilating systems and appliances landlords install, (such as refrigerators and stoves), in good and safe working order. All repairs must be made within a reasonable time period. The time period may vary depending upon the severity of the repairs.
- In New York City, the landlord is required to maintain the public areas in a clean and sanitary condition (NYC Admin. Code § 27-2011).
Tenants should bring complaints to the attention of their local housing officials (Multiple Dwelling Law §78 and §80; Multiple Residence Law §174. The Multiple Dwelling Law applies to cities with a population of 325,000 or more and the Multiple Residence Law applies to cities with less than 325,000 and to all towns and villages).
4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation
If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.
- Landlord entry. In New York, there is no statute for landlord entry, however, 24 hours notice is recommended.
- Changing the locks. In some states, if the locks are changed by a landlord without the tenant’s permission or without the protection of specific language in the lease agreement, this can qualify as being “constructively evicted”, and could relieve the tenant of their duties of the lease. In New York, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants.
5. Domestic Violence
New York provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. If you are confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also be stalking), and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations. The state of New York provides this statute for victims of domestic violence:
- Termination of Lease. With the approval of the court, a tenant is allowed to terminate a lease prematurely in situations of domestic violence (N.Y. RPL §§ 237-c).
6. Senior Citizen or Health Issue
If you, a dependent living with you, or your co-tenant, face a serious physical or mental health issue you may qualify for early lease termination without obligation to pay the entire balance of rent due.
Under New York state law (Real Property Law §227-a(1)) tenants or their spouses living with them who are 62 years or older, or who will turn 62 during the term of their leases, are entitled to terminate their leases if they are certified by a physician as being no longer able, for medical reasons, to live independently and who will move to a residence of a family member, or relocate to an adult care facility, a residential health care facility, subsidized low-income housing, or other senior citizen housing.
When given notice of the tenant’s intention to move into one of the above facilities, the landlord must release the tenant from liability to pay rent for the balance of the lease and adjust any payments made in advance.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in New York
The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.
- They bought a house
- They are relocating for a new job or school
- They are upgrading or downgrading
- They are moving in with a partner
- They are moving to be closer to family
Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in other states but are not applicable in New York:
- Violation of the lease agreement. If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period).
- Illegal contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable.
- Mandatory disclosures. Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Disclosure laws typically impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. In rare cases, they contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease.
Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
New York state law does not require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in New York
If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you are in the clear to do so. However, your lease might contain a clause requiring you to obtain your landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get landlord approval you will want to send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept in case you need proof that you notified your landlord.
The letter should include the following information:
- Sublet term
- Name of proposed subtenant or assignee
- The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee
- Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently
- Your new address during the sublease if applicable
- The written consent of any co‑tenant
- A copy of the proposed sublease
If your landlord rejects your request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law says your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse your sublet.