Realty Bites

I broke my lease. Can my landlord keep the security deposit?

By Austin Havens-Bowen | December 13, 2021 - 9:30AM 

Your landlord can keep your security deposit if you move out early. 

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Question:

I broke my lease and moved out two months early. Do I still owe rent? And can my landlord keep my security deposit?

Answer:

When you break your apartment lease in New York City, you are still on the hook financially.

Your landlord has what’s called a duty to mitigate, which means they have to look for someone who can take over the lease, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (a Brick sponsor). But if they don’t find a replacement, you could be on the hook for the entirety of the lease, he explains.

And in this situation, your landlord is entitled to keep your security deposit and apply it toward those rent payments, Himmelstein says. The law specifies loss of a rent as a justification for an owner to hold onto your security deposit. 


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Landlords can’t ask for an additional fee for breaking your lease. That would be considered a penalty, which is illegal, he says. 

Most landlords would rather not use a security deposit for a missing rent payment, says Adam Frisch, senior managing director of leasing at Lee & Associates. They may not know the condition of the apartment, and a security deposit is meant to cover the costs of any damages to a place.

If you do break your lease, and there are damages beyond normal wear and tear, your landlord can keep your deposit and sue you for the additional damages.

Most don’t do that because it is such a hassle, Frisch says, especially when a renter has moved out of state. A lawsuit in that situation would cost more than the damages, so many landlords eat the cost, he says.

The City Council recently passed a bill that further protects you from additional fees if you break your lease. You can now only be charged as much as it costs to get the apartment to market-rate condition to re-rent. The bill also requires landlords to give you an itemized list of costs, which is already part of the state’s 2019 rent reforms. 

So breaking your lease isn’t necessarily getting you off the hook for rent payments, and can be a hassle for everyone involved. If you really need to move out early, you can try to find someone to sublet your place or take over the lease. 

 

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