Rent Coach

Rent Coach: I need to break my lease. What should I do?

By Mike Akerly  | February 21, 2013 - 10:39AM

Q. Due to some personal circumstances in my life, I need to move out of my apartment six months before the end of my lease. My apartment is market rate, and I assume that finding someone to sublet the apartment from me is probably my only recourse.  I also know that my landlord has no obligation to help me with this. 

What would you recommend that I do in general, what things should I avoid, and how can I best advertise the apartment?

A. Once you determine that you would like to break your lease, the first thing you should do is contact your landlord or management company. Some have procedures in place to assist you with the process such as by allowing you to pay an early termination fee in exchange for releasing you from the contract and assisting with the process of re-renting the apartment. In the event that you’re are offered this option, you would not need to find a replacement tenant, but you will be paying for the privilege.

Some early termination policies may allow you to stop paying rent immediately for a higher fee (as much as three month’s rent) while others may require a smaller fee (perhaps as low as $1,000) but only release you when a new tenant has begun paying the rent.

When you speak to your landlord or management company, remember to reiterate that you understand your obligations and are interested in finding a way to fulfill them along the lines of an early departure. 

If you are not offered an early termination option or you do not like the terms of it, then ask about their lease assignment policy.  With an assignment, you would locate a prospective tenant who would take over the remaining months of your lease. 

Be sure you understand what the terms of the assignment would be.  As I’ve previously discussed in this column, you may still be liable for the rent even after a new tenant moves in if they default on the lease.

If you elect to find a tenant, it will be important to determine how the landlord would like to handle the new lease.  If they will offer the new tenant the opportunity to continue on the same terms as you did, it may be helpful to find out what the renewal terms will be for the new tenant when the initial lease ends.  That way you can tell that information to prospective tenants who are interested in staying for longer than six months. (Many savvy renters look for situations just like this in order to avoid a broker's fee when the sublease is up and they want to sign a new, longer term lease.)

If your replacement is required to sign a new lease, you will need to know how many months the landlord would like the lease to be for and the rent they will be willing to accept.  You need all of this information before you can begin advertising the apartment.

If you don't want to market the apartment yourself, a broker can assist you.  In fact, a good one can help negotiate the entire lease break process to ensure that it costs you as little money as possible. 

In the event that you do engage an agent, they will handle and pay for the marketing, correspond with prospective tenants, and show the property as needed.

It’s important to understand that your landlord need not accept just any applicant that you put forward.  They must meet their specified qualifications (e.g. income, credit, references, etc.). A broker can help assure that you only submit a qualified applicant as a replacement tenant lest you lose weeks of time that you’re still paying the rent if an application is rejected by the landlord or management company. 

In the current market, tenants typically pay the broker’s fee.  However, you can offer to pay a portion of it if you feel that it will help get the apartment rented faster and thus reduce your continued obligation to pay rent there.

Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.     

Note: The information provided here is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and cannot substitute for the advice of a licensed professional applying their specialized knowledge to the particular circumstances of your case.

See all Rent Coach.

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