No one is surprised COVID-19 has come with its fair share of tenant-landlord disputes. But one lawsuit stole the headlines this week because it features New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who lashed out on Twitter when a landlord filed a federal suit in Manhattan seeking more than $250,000 in damages.
Syndergaard signed an eight-month lease for a three-bedroom penthouse in Manhattan worth $27,000 per month. The pitcher was supposed to move March 20, but with the Major League Baseball season postponed and his recovering in Florida from Tommy John Surgery, Syndergaard never moved into the penthouse.
Syndergaard, via Twitter, says he offered more than $50,000 (two months rent) to settle the issue, but the landlord filed suit anyway. Syndergaard’s response? “See you in court pal.”
Whether the case will actually go in front of a judge is difficult to say at this point. A large majority of cases never reach trial, and with courts closed because of COVID-19, it’s uncertain how backlogged courts will be. Although, if Syndergaard’s case were to make it to a judge, the main issue would likely revolve around the landlord’s effort to mitigate damages by seeking a replacement tenant.
The United States Southern District of New York recognizes landlords’ duty to mitigate damages when a tenant defaults on a lease.  Although a landlord can make a case for the tenant’s breach of contract, the tenant can argue the landlord did not mitigate damages by seeking another tenant.
A prime example of the duty to mitigate was in Sommer v. Kridel, 74 N.J. 446 (1977), where a tenant defaulted on a lease because his wedding plans were cancelled and he could no longer afford the apartment. The tenant wrote a letter detailing the issue and his inability to live in the apartment. The landlord let the premises sit for about fifteen months before showing it to anyone, even though someone else inquired about the apartment. The landlord then, initially, sought $7,590 for the two-year lease from the original tenant. The court found that it was unfair for the landlord to recover damages without making an effort to lease the apartment to someone else -- especially when a replacement was available. 
Drutman Realty Co., which follows Sommer, noted that whether the landlord has sufficiently mitigated is up to the facts of each case. Factors such as showing the apartment to prospective tenants or listing it online and/or in newspapers could be sufficient. 
In Syndergaard’s case, the landlord is seeking $250,000 -- $225,000 for the eight-month lease and $17,000 for a broker’s commission.  The apartment, a penthouse in Manhattan, is not a typical apartment. An online listing claims it is a “rarity” and that the condominium is “a highly private and desirable condominium.” 
The landlord would likely argue that Syndergaard has materially breached the contract by not paying rent. If Syndergaard were to claim the landlord has not mitigated damages, Syndergaard would have to prove such a defense. COVID-19 and its effects on Manhattan, specifically, could prove to be an interesting debatable point. How many people are searching for a $27,000 apartment in Manhattan in the middle of COVID-19?
COVID-19 could certainly be a key factor to consider within the realm of the case. Regardless, the landlord would only need to show that it made a legitimate effort to bring in another tenant. The landlord could show online listings, expenses it spent in trying to rent it out again, and other evidence. From the current news, it is unclear whether the landlord has made any type of mitigation efforts.
Syndergaard’s best argument would be the mitigation principle (although there is always the possibility he had some type of walk-out clause). Syndergaard says he notified the landlord, just like the tenant in Sommer. If he shows the landlord did not mitigate damages, the landlord would not likely recover the $250,000. Under an expectations principle, the landlord may be able to recover for the first two months along with any lost profits from Syndergaard’s original contract (if a new tenant paid $25,000 per month, the landlord could recover $2,000 in losses for the remainder of the lease).
Ultimately, though, Syndergaard’s “See you in court pal” remark may never come to fruition as this lawsuit may end in a quiet settlement rather than a Thor-like strike of a gavel.
Hayes Rule is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sports Blawg and a second-year student at Florida State University College of Law.
 Noah Syndergaard to suing New York City landlord: 'See you in court pal', ESPN (May 24, 2020), https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29215522/noah-syndergaard-suing-new-york-city-landlord-see-court-pal.
 See Drutman Realty Co. v. Jindo Corp., 865 F. Supp. 1093, 1100 (S.D.N.Y. 1994).
 Sommer, 74 N.J. at 457.
 Drutman Realty Co., 865 F. Supp. at 1102.
 Stephen Rex Brown, Thor’s scammer! Met Noah Syndergaard failed to pay $27k rent for Tribeca penthouse: suit, NY DAILY NEWS (May 22, 2020), https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-syndergaard-rent-suit-20200522-af7ohxiimrehxmgggerd6yg5aq-story.html.