One of the toughest decisions many people face as they age is how long they can safely live on their own. Many aging adults resist admitting that they need help and can no longer live alone. When the decision is finally made by (or in some cases, for) the senior, there are many logistics which must be addressed. For those seniors who rent rather than own their home, one issue they may face is what to do about a remaining lease term.
Generally, unless a landlord agrees to let a tenant out of his/her lease early (which is rare), the tenant remains liable and must continue paying rent for the entire lease term or until a new tenant is found. Even when the landlord finds a new tenant, if the new rent is less than the amount which was paid by the departing tenant, the old tenant is obligated to make up the shortfall.
However, New York law creates an exception to this rule to provide relief to seniors in certain instances. Section 227-a of the New York Real Property Law permits seniors over the age of 62 to cancel their lease where:
(a) a physician certifies that the senior can no longer live independently for medical reasons and is to move into the residence of a family member; or
(b) the senior is notified of the opportunity to commence occupancy in an adult care facility or subsidized senior living.
If one of these situations exist, the senior citizen can cancel the lease with no further rent obligation. Additionally, since the termination is not considered a breach of the lease, there is no forfeiture of the security deposit.
In order to properly terminate a lease and receive the benefits of Section 227-a, the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice, which can be effective “no earlier than 30 days after the date on which the next rental payment is due and payable.” For example, if under the lease, rent is due on the first day of the month, and the tenant delivers a notice on December 28th, the termination cannot be effective before February 1st. This effectively provides at least one additional rent payment to the landlord.
The required notice must include documentation, including a notarized statement by the family member if the senior citizen is moving into his/her home, which states that the senior citizen will be staying for at least 6 months. Courts have strictly interpreted these requirements and have held that tenants who do not comply with the documentation requirements remain liable under their lease.
A senior who terminates the lease under this law has five days after providing notice to revoke the notice and reinstate the tenancy.
Landlords should note that they are subject to criminal penalties if they withhold personal property on account of future rent obligations.
If you are tenant who may qualify under this law or a landlord who is unsure of its obligations, contact us for assistance.