I recently and unexpectedly switched jobs and took a sizable pay cut. Not long before that I signed a 2-year lease on my studio apartment in Manhattan, which I can no longer afford. What are the rules on breaking a lease, and how much would it cost? Are there any ways to reduce the cost?


2004_08_asksigning.gifIt's likely that if you signed a two-year lease, the landlord hoped to prevent this sort of thing from happening and keep that apartment occupied, but you do have two options.

First, call up your landlord and talk to him about what would need to be done in order to break the lease. The Rent Guidelines Board says that, if the landlord is particularly difficult, he could either refuse to return your security deposit (counting it as unpaid rent) or force you (in court) to pay rent until he finds a new tenant. This is sort of a worst case scenerio, though.

Your other option is to assign the lease to someone else. In other words, you find a tenant to take over the lease. NYC law dictates that you get written consent from your landlord to do this, but if the end result is that he continues to keep the apartment occupied, he might be more willing to let you do this than to break the lease outright. The landlord does, however, have the right to reasonably refuse consent to let you assign the lease. (If he unreasonably refuses, he must relent within 30 days, but the definition of "reasonable" and "unreasonable" in this case is ambiguous.) (More info.)

We think that, given how little time has passed since you signed the lease, the second option is probably the better one, but call your landlord and talk about it first.