Disclaimer: This post has been written for educational purposes only by Park Slope Parents and is 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, whatever it may be. PSP members recommend:
- Met Council on Housing: “a great rights resources for stabilized/controlled tenants”
- Brooklyn Housing and Family Services: “a great local resource”
- Brooklyn Legal Services
- New York Legal Assistance Group: “They also offer some pro bono representation.”
Resources for small business lease issues:
- NYC Commercial Lease Assistance Program
- Apply for pro bono legal assistance
Have an honest discussion with your landlord, and be aware of what’s required of them. In situations where you need to break your lease or are unable to pay rent, your landlord 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. One parent wrote in 2020:
- “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 typically don't want to have to look for a new tenant. It'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. You may also be able to strike a deal in which you move out and continue paying rent only until the landlord finds a new tenant.
- "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?"
If you need to break your lease, you may be able to find someone to take it over instead. If your building has a message board, you may be able to find someone whose lease is up soon and who is willing to take over yours, or you may be able to find someone on the Park Slope Parents Classifieds to take over. You can also try websites like Leasebreak, StreetEasy, and Listings Project.
Or you may be able to sublet. As one parent wrote in 2020:
- “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 as a penalty 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.)”
If your landlord does threaten to withhold your deposit and you feel they're being unfair, you may have recourse available. Members recommend:
- Check your lease. "Take a look at your lease and see what it says about breaking your lease. If it's in the contract, he may be able to keep it. If not, you might have more avenues (legal) to pursue."
- Ask for an itemization. "I should think he has to itemize carefully the stuff for which he will be using the security deposit - what you supposedly broke etc. He can't just say 'you're not getting it back, have a great day.' Especially not in this pro-tenant city of NYC.
Have a look at the lease, and also at the latest housing laws of this city, which are all very much on the side of the tenant. I find it hard to believe that he can get away with this."
- Look into the legal specifics of the situation. "This article will help — there is a section about security deposits. If it really seems like what he's doing is illegal under the new tenant laws, you need to make that clear to him. Otherwise...I think you'd just have to take him to small claims court, like any landlord who won't give back deposit."