Sick of quarantining with your roommates? These renters say 'sublet my apartment'

By Jennifer White Karp  |
April 16, 2020 - 9:30AM

Terence Liu left Manhattan when New York's shutdown went into effect. He is trying to find someone to sublet or take over the lease on his studio in Murray Hill. 


Lindsey R.’s apartment listing on RentHop is funny as hell but she’s really facing a crisis: Because of the pandemic, her pay was cut and she feels her job is at risk. So, she is looking for someone to take over the lease on her Brooklyn studio for the remaining eight months.

“I must have been crazy to move into this completely gorgeous apartment pre-quarantine,” she writes. “I can't afford an in-unit washer and dryer, a walk-in closet, and a freaking basketball court. I'm a freelancer, who was I kidding?”

The description concludes with, “Thanks to Covid-19, I’m poor now. Come rescue me from this beautiful place.”

She tells Brick Underground the apartment is ideal for someone who needs a transition because of the quarantine and wants to “get away from roommates they've been trapped with for months or to move in with a partner they don't want to be separated from. The location and views are incredible, lots of fresh air and parks.”

Because it’s a lease takeover, a renter would later have the option of renewing the lease, she points out.

She’s not the only one looking to get out of an expensive New York City rental. The pandemic is prompting New Yorkers to try to sublet or find other renters to take over their leases. It’s also complicating things for renters who are looking to get out of their leases for other reasons.

RentHop, the apartment listings platform, reports an increase in sublets this spring. The company saw a 32.4 increase in sublets month over month from February to March. Last year’s month-over-month increase for the same period was 10 percent.

Editor's note: Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.

Under New York state real property law, all tenants can sublet their apartments—even if your lease says otherwise, according to Sam Himmelstein, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (and a Brick Underground sponsor). You must notify your landlord in writing of your intent to sublet and follow certain procedures.

But one important consideration now, however, is whether your building is allowing moves. While moving companies are considered an essential business, many buildings are prohibiting moves to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Subletting vs. taking over a lease

With a sublet, the assumption is the leaseholder is leaving the apartment for a temporary period. The leaseholder remains on the hook and is responsible for paying rent to the landlord and any damage to the apartment.

A lease takeover involves a transfer of the lease assignment to a new renter, who much be approved by the landlord and have their finances and background vetted. The advantage here is that the leaseholder breaks free of the lease and the new tenant gets an apartment without paying a broker fee and for a shorter commitment, often with an option to sign a new lease.

If you’re on the hunt for a sublet, you’ll find more sublets in Brooklyn and Manhattan, according to RentHop data. Over a third of all NYC sublets rent for less than $2,000 a month. About 14 percent of sublets are studios and about 30 percent are one bedrooms.

Baby on the way

Terence Liu and his wife have a baby due in August, which happens to be when their lease on a studio in Murray Hill is up. They decided to decamp to New Jersey on March 23rd, when New York’s shutdown went into effect and look for someone to sublet the apartment.

The pandemic has made it impossible to show the studio in person, so Terence recorded a video tour for prospective tenants. After two potential renters failed to commit and the calender rolled over into April, he’s out $3,000 in rent for an apartment he’s no longer occupying.

The apartment is big for a studio, he points out. “It’s the biggest unit in the entire building without any sizable markup. It’s south facing with enough sunlight and it's quiet when traffic ramps up. It’s close to Grand Central, so getting out of town would be easy,” he says.

Relocating for work

Alan (who asked that we use his first name only) needs to sublet because his job is relocating him. Fortunately, move-ins are still allowed in his Jersey City luxury rental building in the Waterfront area. There are lots of amenities in the building, including a pool, gym, basketball court, and movie theater. His listing notes the apartment is available for $700 below market rate for a seven- to eight-month lease with the option to renew. It is asking $4,340 a month.

He says the apartment is ideal for anyone sheltering in place, thanks to its views of the Statue of Liberty and Liberty State Park, which "have a calming effect” that is ideal for these stressful times.



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.