Legal advice for breaking lease in NYC?
March 16, 2012 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Legal advice for breaking lease in NYC?

I know this question on the surface has been asked many times; my situation is different and confusing for me to figure out just by common sense.

I live in Brooklyn, and I have 9 months left on my lease. I just looked at my lease, and I signed it with my landlord. I live with a roommate, and I pay him every month and he gives it to the landlord. My landlord is Chinese, but he speaks only Cantonese (I speak some Mandarin but mostly English)...thus, my Cantonese-speaking roommate is the liason. I live in the same apt as my roommate, but he's not on the lease.

I'm about to accept a job in another state, that's why I have to leave. My roommate says that I have to find another roommate, which is fine.

Here is the roommate says that he prefers...

1. To live with another Asian, and that's the landlord's preference too
2. To quote him: "Absolutely no black people." Apparently also the landlord's preference.

That's racist and discriminatory and illegal, right?! And also, unfair to me...? I could find 10 suitable roommates, but my roommate could turn them down just because he's got all these issues. My roommate is intimidating me into paying the rest of the lease.

He also says that if a replacement pays less than what my monthly rent is, I would have to pay the difference upfront for all of the months left (9 months).

Can any give me some legal advice? I'm scared and I feel like my roommate's race issues are really unreasonable. If posting pictures of the lease helps, let me know and I can provide a link to a flicker account or something.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.
posted by skybluesky to Law & Government (3 answers total)
This problem has a legal side and a practical side.

The legal side first: The default rule is that you're on the hook for the entire amount of the lease. But, this is subject to the landlord's responsibility to mitigate the damages. This means that if he leases the property to someone else, his damages are reduced by the amount of rent he receives. Also, once you break the lease, the roommate is out on the street. And, yes, it's unlawful for the landlord to refuse to lease the apartment to someone because of their race. Finally, for your landlord to collect any amount you owe him, he has to go to court, get a judgment, and enforce that judgment against you.

In a world free of your special snowflake practical details, here's how this would work: you would tell your landlord and your roommate that you were breaking the lease. You and your roommate would move out. If your roommate didn't make any kind of agreement with your landlord, your landlord would then offer the apartment for lease. He'd take you to court, and you'd owe the difference between what was remaining on your lease and what he got from the new renter.

Now, the practical side: you're moving out of state. This is inconvenient for you in the event you're sued, because you have to return to contest the action (which will be in small claims court or maybe a special landlord-tenant court; I'm not a NY lawyer and I don't know). But it's also inconvenient for your landlord, because he needs to serve you and collect on a judgment. Also, he doesn't speak English and it might be difficult for him to negotiate the court system. So, one option for you is just to leave, but this will carry with it the risk that you'll have a judgment against you in New York if you don't want to come back to contest it. If you DO want to contest it, your argument will basically be that your landlord refused to mitigate damages because he refused to consider renting to an entire segment of the population (if indeed that's the landlord's position). Keep in mind, it's your landlord, not your roommate, who will have a claim against you. So if and when your roommate does find someone to share the place with him, assuming the landlord rents it to him, your roommate cannot come after you for the difference. It's the landlord who has to do this.

(As an aside, it's not unlawful for your roommate to not want to have no black roommates unless he's actually leasing the apartment to people--but it is unlawful for your landlord).
posted by MoonOrb at 4:39 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your roommate is not on the lease, then IMO he shouldn't get to stay there after you leave unless he signs a new lease (or goes month to month with your landlord). In either case—I would think this would supersede your responsibility to pay.

I think that MoonOrb is right but I might take it a step farther... realistically, I don't think your landlord is going to come after you for the balance. He sounds a bit over his head even with the basic legal concepts regarding being a landlord, and not about to go negotiate housing court. But who knows.

As an aside, you ask for legal advice in your question, you should note that anything you get here will emphatically not be legal advice and you shouldn't rely on it as such....
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2012

I agree that your roommate's race requirements are unreasonable from a human (not necessarily legal) perspective. What do you mean your roommate is "intimidating" you?

Anyway, I can't give you legal advice, but I recommend looking into some kind of local legal assistance program.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:12 PM on March 17, 2012

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