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How can I protect myself if I need to break my lease?

With a leasebreak, landlords can no longer sue the tenant for the whole rent, says attorney Sam Himmelstein.

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Question:

I'm about to sign a year-long lease, but might be transferred in a few months to a job in a different city. Can I negotiate some kind of out clause with my landlord? Can I get insurance to cover any costs of breaking my lease?

Answer:

Breaking a lease can be tricky; leases are essentially contracts in which renters promise to pay rent for the length of time stipulated. That's why trying to negotiate with your landlord should always be the first step, our experts say.

"Contact the landlord and ask if you can work something out," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor). "They might say yes if you let them show the apartment regularly, or they might ask for a one or two month fee. It always helps to try to negotiate." 

You also have the option of assigning your lease to another tenant; under the Real Property Law, if you find a suitable assignee but your landlord "unreasonably withholds consent," you are released from your lease. 

Furthermore, the new rent laws passed by the state legislature mean that if you do break your lease without your landlord's consent, you won't face the same potential penalties as before. 

"The new laws require landlords to mitigate damages, which means they must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the apartment at the rate the tenant was paying or fair market value, whichever is lower," Himmelstein explains. "The days when the landlord could sit there and sue the tenant for the whole rent are gone." 

There's less risk in breaking your lease than there used to be, but that doesn't mean you'll face zero consequences. It's still best to try negotiating with your landlord, especially since you can't insure yourself against being sued for moving out early. 

"There's no coverage under standard apartment Insurance for any fines or penalties from opting to break a lease," warns Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor.)


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