Landlord & Tenant Resources
Housing Rights Protection
The state of New York has certain laws in place to protect both the landlord and the tenant in rental agreements. For instance, the landlord is prohibited by law to discriminate against any person because of: race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, marital or familial status. Laws are in place to ensure the safety and well being of both the landlord and the tenant. Both are entering into certain obligations by making a rental agreement and are held accountable under law.
A rental agreement is also known as a "lease." A lease is a contract that is held between the landlord and the person renting the home, who is known as a tenant. After a lease is signed, it can not be changed unless both parties agree to the change. The tenant must sign the lease in order for the landlord to hold him to the terms of the agreement. General Obligations Law 5-701.
So what does a lease involve? At the very minimum a lease should state the address of the premises, the names of all persons that will be living there, due dates and amount expected for rent, and the time when the lease is up. Other things that should be in the lease include the condition of the premises and the rights and obligations of both parties involved.
The tenant should inspect the dwelling to make sure that it meets their individual needs and standard. Anything that appears damaged or needs repaired should be stated in the lease and the landlord should sign it. If the landlord makes any promises to fix anything, then that should also be written in the lease.
The tenant needs to make sure that they understand fully what the rental agreement means and what obligations are required of them. The tenant should also make sure and have a copy of the lease in hand for future reference. If for any reason the rental agreement needs to change then the lease should be initialed by the landlord and the tenant.
The rent should not be increased while a lease is in effect. For example, if the tenant signs a one year lease then the landlord may not raise the rent within that year. The lease may state however, that the tenant will owe a late fee if the rent is not payed on time. The landlord may not increase the rent as an act of rebellion against the tenant for any reason.
The maximum amount allowed for rent increases for stabilized apartments are agreed upon each year by the Rent Guidlines Board. A landlord may request a rent increase for improvements that benefit all tenants, such as to replace a boiler. In addition, the rent may be increased in a specific dwelling due to major upgrades, such as new equipment or other improvements.
The landlord must request for permission for the rental increase within two years that the improvement has taken place. The DHCR must approve the request in order for the landlord to make a rental increase. In New York City rent stabilized apartments may not receive a rental increase that exceeds 6% of the tenant's rent.
The landlord may request an increase due to hardship or increased labor costs. The rent may also be adjusted due to the various types of heating fuels and the rising cost to meet the need.
Certain individuals may be exempt from rental increases however, these individuals include senior citizens or tenants who are disabled. In order to find out if you qualify for these exemptions you can call the DHCR's Rent InfoLine at (718) 739-6400. Real Property Law 235-e.
Termination of a Tenancy
A tenant may be able to terminate the rental agreement if the landlord violates the lease. In a case like this the tenant is no longer bound by the lease.
A landlord may terminate the rental agreement if the tenant violates the lease. Situations like this will be discussed below but there are legal steps that need to be taken for this to happen.
Almost all leases require the tenant to pay the landlord a security deposit. The average amount of a security deposit is equal to one month's rent. If for some reason the rent goes up then the landlord does have the right to collect more money in order to keep the security deposit at the current monthly charge. This security deposit may be used for repairs if the tenant damages the premises beyond normal wear and tear. The deposit may also be used in the case that the tenant does not pay rent.
The landlord is required to return the security deposit to the tenant when the lease is up, or at least within a reasonable time after. Even if the tenant does not ask for the return, the landlord is required to give it back at the specified time.
Landlords are not allowed to intermingle the deposit money with their own. Landlords that have six or more buildings are required to deposit the money in a New York bank account and the tenant must be informed in writing of the amount of the deposit, the bank's name, and the bank's address. The money that is sitting in the bank is earning interest but only one percent of that interest belongs to the landlord. The rest of the interest money belongs to the tenant. The tenant now has the option of receiving that money annually, applying it towards rent, or receiving it when the lease is up.
In New York City, the landlord is required by law to maintain a clean and sanitary public area. NYC Admin. Code 27-2011
Landlords have many obligations when managing multiple dwelling apartments. They must keep the building's public areas in "good repair" which includes being clean and free of vermin, garbage, and any other material that may be offensive. The landlord is also required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilating systems. The landlords need to keep appliances that they install in good working condition. Examples of such appliances may include the refrigerator and the stove. If a tenant has a complaint then they should bring it it the attention of the local housing official. (Multiple Dwelling Law 78 and 80; Multiple Residence Law 174.) The difference between the two laws is the population. The multiple dwelling law applies to a population of 325,000 or more and the multiple residence law applies to a population of less than 325,000 people.
Other obligations that the landlord is held responsible for include safety obligations. This includes installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Multiple dwelling buildings must have self-closing and self-locking doors and a two-way intercom system. Other safety features include having a lobby attendant for the safety of the tenants. An elevator mirror should be installed so that the person entering will know if anyone else is in the elevator.
Another safety obligation that the landlord is under is to install a peephole in the entrance door of every apartment. Multiple dwelling buildings in New York must also have a chain-door guard on each door of every apartment. This allows the door to only partially open. Multiple Dwelling Law 51-c; NYC Admin. Code 27-2043.
The United States Postal regulations require that landlords with buildings of three or more apartments to provide a secure mail box for each apartment. This is only void if the management of the building has arranged to deliver the mail to each apartment. Landlords are required by law to maintain the mailboxes and locks so as to keep them in good repair.
The tenant is obligated to do certain things including:
maintain a clean and sanitary environment;
not damage the premises;
dispose of garbage;
use appliances appropriately;
leave the property in the same or better condition that they entered.
The tenants have the right to install their own locks on the apartment door in addition to the lock that the landlord gave them. The locks may not be bigger than three inches in circumference, and the tenant must give a spare key to the landlord if requested. If the tenant refuses to give an additional key to the landlord, then the landlord may be able to practice eviction procedures. Multiple Dwelling Law 51-c.
Upkeep and Repairs
The landlord must keep the property clean and sanitary. Repairs that need to be done must meet state and city regulations.
Withholding Rent for Repairs
In an extenuating circumstance, the tenant does reserve the right to make repairs and then deduct the cost of the repair from the rent owed. A case like this would be if the landlord has already been notified of something, but did not fix it. For example, the tenant tells the landlord that the door lock is broken and the landlord neglects that claim, then the tenant may hire a locksmith to fix the lock and has the right to deduct the cost of that repair from the rent. The tenant must keep all receipts of repairs when this happens.
A tenant has the option to take out renters insurance, but that is not required unless stated in the lease. It may be a good idea for the tenant to have insurance, but that is a personal choice.
Tenants are allowed to keep pets in their apartments unless the signed lease specifically states otherwise. If the tenant violates the lease then the landlord does reserve the right to evict him. In New York City and Westchester County, there are multiple buildings where there is a no-pet lease clause that is waived if the tenant "openly and notoriously" keeps a pet for at least three months. In this case the owner or the owner's agent would be knowledgeable of the pet. This protection does not apply to public housing and also does not apply if the pet causes damage, is a nuisance, or greatly interferes with other tenants. NYC Admin. Code 27-2009.1(b); Westchester County Laws, Chapter 694.
If a tenant has a special need, for instance the tenant is blind or deaf, then the no-pet clause does not apply to them. In this case the tenant is allowed to have guide dogs or service dogs. Another execption to the no-pet clause is if the tenant has a chronic mental illness. In this case the tenant is allowed to have an emotional assistance animal. NY Civil Rights Law 47.
Right of Entry
A landlord does not have the right to enter the premises with the intent to harass the tenant. The landlord may enter with the permission of the tenant and with reasonable prior notice to (1) provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or other services; (2) if it is in accordance with the lease; or (3) to show the apartment to people who may be perspective purchasers or future tenants. The only time a landlord may enter without permission is in an emergency or if the tenant has abandoned the premises. Emergency situations may include a fire. The landlord also may not interfere with cable television installations. Public Service Law 228.
A tenant is protected from eviction as long as there is a signed lease in action. The only way the lease would not protect the tenant is if the tenant violates the lease or violates any local housing laws and codes. If the landlord is wanting to issue an eviction they must give a formal notice stating that intention in order to obtain legal possession of the premises.
The tenant must vacate the premises by the specified date or else the landlord has the right to commence the eviction proceeding through:
1) A court proceeding for non-payment when the tenant failed to pay what was due, and to recover any outstanding rent and evict the tenant, or
2) A summary holdover proceeding to evict the tenant if the tenant had violated an obligation within the lease. Examples of this would be the tenant had used the premises for illegal reasons, or they committed or permitted a nuisance. Another reason for this would be the tenant stayed in the premises for longer than the lease stated without permission. Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) 711.
In the case that the landlord wants to evict their tenants for reasons including to demolish the building, then the owner must first seek approval from the DHCR. The landlord has the right to go straight to court in cases including the tenant failed to pay rent, has proven to be a nuisance, has damaged the property or building, or has committed other wrongful acts.
The tenant is legally evicted after the landlord has went to court and received a judgment of possession. The tenant would be wise to never ignore legal papers. Even if the tenant refused to show up at court, he can still be evicted.
Landlords do not have the right to force eviction. This can only be done by a sheriff, marshal, or constable. This means that the landlord can not lock the tenant out, move out personal items, threaten or violate the tenant in any way, or cut off any services such as heat or water. Furthermore, when the tenant is evicted the landlord must give the tenant a reasonable amount of time to remove all personal belongings from the premises. RPAPL 749; Real Property Law 235.
Landlords in New York City that use illegal methods to evict a tenant or force them out are in danger of severe punishment. In a case like this the landlord may be facing criminal and civil penalties, and the tenant may be entitled to recover triple the damages. The tenant also may be able to recover occupancy in the premise. RPAPL 853; NYC Admin. Code 26-523 & 26-521.
There are special cases where additional rules apply. In New York City a landlord may not evict tenants that occupy a rent stabilized apartment if the spouse of the tenant is disabled or a senior citizen. The only way this can happen for owner occupancy is if the owner provides another apartment equivalent or superior with the same or lower rent, and it must be in a nearby area. In the state of New York a landlord who is running rent controlled apartments may not evict tenants for the purpose of owner occupancy if the tenant falls into these categories: senior citizen, a disabled person, or any person who has occupied the apartment for 20 years or more. 9NYCRR 2524.4; 9 NYCRR 250.4; NYC Admin. Code 26-408(b)(1).
If a tenant is ever facing the chance of eviction, it is a good idea to consult with their attorney so they know exactly what legal rights are in place to protect them.
Settlement of Disputes
In the case where the tenant and the landlord can not settle the dispute between themselves, they may turn to the legal system for help. The offices of the Attorney General in New York are available for cases like this.