Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom at

A year long lease can seem like a very simple and short commitment when you’re signing on the dotted line for a that new apartment you fell in love with; however, sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Perhaps your employer offered you a big promotion in a new city and you have to relocate quickly. Maybe you actually lost your job and are having trouble paying the rent. Other life events like an earlier-than-expected new baby, plans to move in with a significant other, or a roommate suddenly moving out may change your space requirements. Whatever the reason, people are often left wondering what their options are to break an apartment lease.

If you are renting in New York City, you may be at an advantage when trying to break an apartment lease. The market is strong and the demand for apartments is high, so your landlord may be much more willing to work with you knowing it will likely be easy for them to find another reliable tenant. Hey – maybe they can even increase that rent that is already way too high. Sometimes that hot apartment market in NYC works to your advantage!

Negotiating with your Landlord

For your first attempt to break your apartment lease, try talking it out with your landlord. If you are in a position where you can no longer pay the rent, your landlord will definitely want to work with you to get a tenant in that has no financial troubles. If it’s a life change that is requiring a move but you have a good relationship with your landlord, they may also still be willing to make arrangements that will benefit the both of you.

Try to give your landlord as much as much of a heads up as possible. The more time they have to find a new tenant, the more likely they will be flexible with you as well. If your landlord is willing to work with you, just make sure the terms agreed upon are written up in a legal document that releases you from any future financial obligation, including if they intend to return your deposit.

Subletting your Apartment

If you’re willing to do a little extra leg work and have some time before you have to move out of your apartment, see if your landlord would be open to you subletting the place! If you were to sublet the apartment you’d essentially be acting as a landlord since you would still be legally responsible for the apartment and rental payments, so it’s important to pick your subletter wisely.

Let’s say you find a good friend or co-worker that is willing to sublet your apartment. Regardless of your relationship, be sure you take all the necessary steps to protect yourself and your landlord. Document the condition of the apartment prior to passing it off to the new tenant. Draw up an official sublet agreement. Take a security deposit for any damages or unpaid rent that come out of the sublet period. This apartment will still be your responsibility, so make sure you have your legal ducks in a row.

Making some Sacrifices

If your landlord is uncomfortable with you subletting the apartment or if you have to leave quickly, you may need to be prepared to make a few sacrifices. This is understandable since you’re disrupting your landlord’s rental income by choosing to terminate your lease early. Typically landlords will be reasonable and not ask for much more extra rent outside the amount of time it will take them to find a new tenant. If they won’t agree to just let you walk, you may try offering to forfeit your security deposit or the equivalent to one month’s rent. This leaves your landlord with a little breathing room to find a new tenant in your absence and one month’s rent extra isn’t unreasonable if you’re breaking an apartment lease significantly early.

Hopefully your renting process is seamless and enjoyable, and you won’t be faced with the need to break your apartment lease. However, if you find yourself begrudgingly sharing your life with the neighborhood pizza rat or left high and dry when your five roommates decide to start an Indie band and move to Portland – don’t worry. Most landlords want tenants that can pay the rent and will immediately look for a new tenant for your place when you let them know you can’t continue to live there. With some good negotiation skills and open communication with your landlord, you should have no problem finding yourself a new place.