Lucas responded to an inquiry regarding a tenant's rights and liabilities in the event early termination of a residential lease is sought.
Since it's something we're asked quite regularly, we've reproduced the question, and Lucas's response, below.
Congrats, and onward, Lucas!
Breaking a Lease
Q. What are a renter's rights when seeking to cancel a lease before the end of the term? Though there are no provisions in my lease allowing for liquidated damages, my landlord wants two months' rent for allowing me to break the lease. This seems excessive.
A. Neither a landlord nor a tenant can break a lease unless the right to do so is spelled out in the lease or is granted by some statute or regulation, said Lucas A. Ferrara, a Manhattan lawyer and an adjunct professor at New York Law School.
For example, he said, under a new state law, victims of domestic violence may seek to be released from a lease if they can show a substantial risk of physical or emotional harm if they are not permitted to move. Another example would be if a tenant was forced to leave an apartment because all or part of the space was unusable, say after a flood.
If a tenant breaks a lease without justification, Mr. Ferrara said, market forces will play a critical role in determining the tenant's liability. For example, if the rent being paid is below market value, the landlord will probably be delighted to end the lease early.
"Problems arise when the owner can't find a new tenant at the existing rent or is forced to rent for less money," Mr. Ferrara said.
To avoid litigation, many landlords will work with their tenants to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution, he said. One example would be to release the tenant from the lease in exchange for payment of several months' rent. So while the landlord's offer may seem excessive to the letter writer, all of the issues cited would affect the landlord's decision.
Mr. Ferrara noted that if some agreement cannot be reached, the landlord may or may not be required to mitigate financial losses by trying to rerent the apartment.
"In Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, a landlord is usually required to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant," Mr. Ferrara said. "In Manhattan and the Bronx, however, an appeals court ruled in 1997 that the owner has no such obligation."
To download a copy of the actual article, please use the following link: Breaking a Lease (September 9, 2007)