Resources for Renting Woes during COVID-19

Nobody wants to have to break their lease or be in debt to their landlord, but—especially during the coronavirus pandemic—life happens. If you’re finding yourself in a challenging situation with your apartment or small business venue due to financial constraints or an unexpected need to relocate, these resources and tips sourced from PSP members can help.

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Disclaimer: This post has been written for educational purposes only by Park Slope Parents and was not meant to be legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice or be relied upon. The post may contain errors, inaccuracies and/or omissions. You should always consult an attorney admitted to practice in your jurisdiction for specific advice.

Reach out to a professional. A tenants rights attorney is the best resource to help you understand the ins and outs of your situation. PSP members recommend:

 

Resources for small business lease issues:

 

Have an honest discussion with your landlord, and be aware of what’s required of them. Although there are no laws specifically allowing you to break your lease due to the pandemic, landlords are aware that these are extraordinary times, and they may be able to offer accommodations. If you’re experiencing financial constraints, that might mean an arrangement such as a short-term reduced rate, a delayed payment, or even converting your security deposit into rent. If you’re wanting or needing to move out, then your landlord might allow you to search for a new tenant at a reduced rent rate that reflects the constraints of the recession, thus making it easier for you to find someone to take your place. And if you’re at high risk for COVID-19 due to a medical condition, your landlord may be required to let you out of your lease as a form of “reasonable accommodation.”

  • “There is no right not to pay, so the landlord technically has all legal remedies at his or her disposal. It is not obvious any court would listen, right now at least. That said, your best approach is to contact the landlord. It will not be easy to replace you as a tenant, and landlords probably know remedies are difficult to enforce at this time. However, I would not take that chance or want that stress. So I’d ask for a rent reduction. Every month it’s vacant the landlord is out the full amount. And these times are extraordinary. I imagine a landlord would work with you on at least a meaningful reduction for now. Worth a shot before you jump ship altogether. There’s no way to just vacate and not have this in the back of your mind unless you have an arrangement with your landlord.”
  • “Changes to the rent laws made last year should benefit you—landlords are legally required to make a 'reasonable effort' to re-rent your apartment, even if you break your lease. And there are new protections for your security deposit—you have to be offered a walk-through to assess damage, your landlord has to give you an itemized receipt for anything they withhold from your security deposit, and they must return it to you within 14 days.”

 

Enter negotiations with positive intentions, and assume that your landlord is doing the same.

  • "If you feel comfortable, include a few personal details about your situation. Most people care about doing the right thing and they want opportunities to think of themselves as a good person."
  • "Many people think everybody is just trying to screw them. Showing good faith and that you want to make an effort to resolve, that you're doing your best etc etc, goes a long way."

 

Landlords don't want to have to look for a new tenant right nowIt's likely that they'd rather lose 50% of rent by negotiating a lower rate with you than lose 100% by having you vacate the apartment. This can give you some leverage when it comes to talking through rent increases, decreases, and forgiveness.

  • "It's going to be very hard for the landlord to find a new tenant right now. A good tenant is worth keeping. I have successfully negotiated rent increases in the past by remaining positive, saying we've loved our tenancy here and we hope to continue, but this increase is not tenable for us, can you let us know if there is room for discussion so we can try to work it out so we can stay here?"

 

Government regulations and assistance programs may be of help. Under the current eviction moratorium, you cannot be evicted for nonpayment until at least August 20. While you'll still owe your landlord for back rent after that date (unless you're able to negotiate with them), this does give you some time to locate alternative sources of emergency funding. For instance, the city's Human Resources Administration offers a "One Shot Deal" to provide qualifying New Yorkers with a one-time payment they can put toward rent. For more—including what to do if your landlord does serve you with an eviction notice—check out this article on Curbed.

 

You may be able to sublet rather than breaking your lease. Demand for sublets and rentals has fallen off steeply during the pandemic, but it may still be possible for you to find a short-term occupant to take on the balance of the lease after you leave.

  • “Check rental laws but -- if your building has more than 5 or 6 units I think you are legally (by state law, but again check this) allowed to sublet.
    Many landlords don't want subletters. They'd be happier to break the lease. But you can use it to negotiate breaking the lease. And there's very strict rules about subletters, so they can't just reject someone decent out of hand. We did this one in upstate years ago -- they could let us out or here's our list of subletters. They decided to let us out of the lease.”

 

If you break your lease, be aware that you may end up losing money on things like your security deposit. This might be part of your negotiations with your landlord—for instance, you could offer to forfeit your deposit plus one or two months of rent in exchange for breaking the lease early—or it might just be an unfortunate casualty of the circumstances, as one member reports.

  • “My husband and I broke our lease last November after a really bad police-involved shooting happened on our corner. Our landlord was not sympathetic, so we just had to make the jump and hope for the best. Our good news was that we worked with the building’s broker to re-rent pretty quickly. The bad news is that we still haven’t received our security deposit (despite the fact that they’re legally required to give it back at this point.)”

 

Further reading: