7 Important Facts About New York Landlord and Tenant Laws
Your landlord comes knocking angrily at your door. You have had some rough patches with him in the past but this time he’s apparently talked to the police and gotten a “Warrant of Eviction” document which he furiously waves in your face. You barely process the piece of paper in front of you and already frustrated by your landlord’s tone, you yell at him and slam the door, ignoring what you understand to be his ploys to get you out of his building.
But as you think, you entertain the thought of what might happen if you don’t leave the apartment. Will you be arrested? Fined? Thrown out into the street? It can be difficult to process what’s happening when push comes to shove regarding legal matters.
Maybe you buckle and decide to move out because you don’t want to get into trouble with the law. But should you have? Was your landlord right?
The fact is, tenants have rights. But when faced with legal action and consequences, it’s easy to give way to a lot of anxious thoughts and fail to exercise these rights. Many tenants don’t understand what rights they have and because they don’t know their rights, they can never discern when a landlord is overstepping his legal boundaries. Of course, these rights differ from state to state. If you’re a tenant in New York, this post is here to help you get informed.
“What are my rights? And how do I know if my landlord is overstepping his boundaries,” you ask. Good questions! Here are some important facts to definitely be in the know about the New York Landlord and Tenant laws.
1) My landlord said he cut off my utilities because I complained about some needed repairs in the apartment. Can he do that?
No. It is illegal for a landlord to cut off utilities.
As part of NY state law, landlords are required to provide a safe and livable environment for their tenants. In addition to the proper security measures, the provision of utilities falls under this category of “safe” and “livable.” Unless a specific court order spells it out, know that your landlord cannot just decide to cut off your electricity, water, or heat.
Indeed, property owners in NY are absolutely required by law to provide hot water for 365 days a year at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Have you watched Disney’s Frozen? Do you want to build a snowman? In your home? Hopefully, your apartment doesn’t look like Elsa came for a visit, because landlords are obligated to provide heat to their tenants between October 1st and May 31st under certain specific conditions.
If your landlord cuts off your utilities or fails to provide them in the proper conditions, he is not fulfilling his duty and responsibility as a landlord.
2) My landlord keeps threatening to kick me out. Does he have legal right to do that?
No. It is illegal for a landlord to simply evict a tenant.
Are your padlocks changed? Are your clothes, books, and furniture outside in a flaming pit over which your landlord is cooking sausages? While such an occurrence would be quite the sight, your landlord can’t just kick you out and tell you that you have to leave–especially if the lease is not up. Learn why reviewing a lease before you sign is so important.
There are specific conditions under which a landlord can move a tenant out of his property: 1) If the written lease between a landlord or tenant is up, 2) If a tenant withholds rent from the landlord, or 3) If a tenant has severely violated the lease.
Even when these conditions are met, the landlord must take the tenant to court, win, and receive a court order called a “Warrant of Eviction.”
Outside of all these preconditions, a landlord’s methods to evict a tenant are illegal. A letter from either a landlord or the landlord’s lawyer is never enough to evict a tenant. If your landlord’s approach to getting you to move out is through methods previously listed such as cutting off your utilities or locking you out, understand that is illegal according to the New York Landlord Tenant Law.
3) I think I pay too much rent. Can I possibly pay less?
Yes. A tenant may withhold rent from the landlord under certain conditions.
Again, a landlord has a duty to provide his tenants with livable, safe, and sanitary environments. Of course, the idea of “livable,” “safe,” and “sanitary” conditions are not fluid or arbitrary terms. These conditions do not change according to a tenant’s preferences; just because the bathroom floor is not donned with the Apple Store’s trademark Pietra Serena sandstone doesn’t mean you can withhold rent from the landlord.
Livable, safe, and sanitary means the landlord needs to properly manage the security of the building as well as maintenance of pipelines, heating systems, and electrical wires.
While withholding rent is an actual right to exercise, it should be done only in very serious cases. If there are real repairs that need to be done within the property, the tenant needs to notify the landlord. Ask when the repairs will be done. If it’s an emergency, you need to let the landlord know it is an emergency.
In the case that the landlord is slow to respond or simply does not make the repairs, send a letter requesting the repairs. If the landlord takes no action at this point, then you might want to take your own steps to fix the issue or what you may call “Repair and Deduct.”
Repair and deduct simply means you make your own repairs with what you would normally pay for rent. So instead of paying the rent, you make your own repairs and deduct the repair amount from the usual rent. If you do decide to take this as your next step, you need to ensure that your landlord understands what you are about to do. The important thing is to give him a chance to make the repairs.
In the case that you decide to take this course of action, get some estimates before you do anything. Repairs do not mean upgrading your apartment into a nightclub or a penthouse suite!
Unless the issues within your home are severe and detrimental to your health, such as toxic sewage leaking from a pipe, try not to immediately resort to withholding rent. On a serious note, if there are electrical wires hanging out or something of the sort, you should notify your landlord immediately.
4) I asked my landlord for my security deposit and he said he spent it because he had legal right to use it to repair the building. Only thing was it was not even in my apartment. Can he do that?
Absolutely not! A security deposit is still technically a tenant’s money.
Usually, a landlord will take a security deposit in the amount of the first month’s rent. Apart from reimbursement for unpaid rent or damage to the property, the landlord does not have a right or privilege to spend the money from a tenant’s security deposit. The money you provide the landlord is still technically your money.
Currently, there is no real statutory limit as to how much a landlord takes as a security deposit. However, he must provide a receipt of the deposit which details the name and address of the banking institution where he placed it as well as the amount of the deposit.
A receipt ensures that you have knowledge that your money is safely stored away in a bank instead of the dusty shoebox under your landlord’s bed of which you can’t even be sure exists.
Understand that this deposit should be in a separate account. The landlord should not and cannot mix your deposit with his own personal money.
After a lease is up and upon vacating the premises, a tenant is entitled to get the security deposit back with interest. In New York, the window for returning a security deposit is typically 21-45 days of a tenant vacating a property. A landlord is obligated to return the security deposit regardless of whether or not the tenant specifically requests it.
5) I’ve been paying $1000 a month for the past year. My landlord is suddenly asking for an extra $500 a month. Shouldn’t he have let me know he was raising the rent?
No such luck with this one. A landlord actually does not need to provide notice of increased rent.
Current New York Landlord Tenant law does not provide a statute which demands that a landlord provides a notice of increased rent.
However, this is only true when your lease agreement is up. So if you have a one-year lease where you pay $1000 a month, he cannot raise the rent beyond $1000 until the end of the year. But once your lease is up, neither you nor the landlord have a contractual agreement either of you must abide by in terms of financial matters.
You might think this is crazy because then your landlord could charge you, as Dr. Evil says, “One million dollars!” But rest assured that in the state of NY there is something called rent control.
Rent control essentially means there is a limit to how much your landlord can increase your rent. However, some apartments are not regulated. In the case that it is not regulated, then the landlord can actually raise the rent as much as he wants. With that said, the fact that your landlord can raise your rent without notice to you remains unchanged.
In the case that your lease is not yet up but your landlord increases your rent, then something is definitely wrong and you need to make sure he’s not violating the lease. You can find out more information about raising rent here.
6) This is kind of weird, but my landlord enters my apartment from time to time. He doesn’t even knock and it really irks me! But doesn’t he technically have a right to enter because it’s his property?
Actually, no. A landlord cannot enter a tenant’s property without proper notice.
If you have no problem with your landlord randomly entering your home, there’s no need to read this section. But if you take issue with the fact that someone has access to your home at any time and comes in periodically or perhaps even too often without notice, just know that your landlord cannot do that.
Considering the landlord is the property owner, you might reluctantly think in the back of your head that he “technically” has a legal right to enter your home at any second. Not at all.
As with many of the other things a landlord can do, he can only enter your property under—the key phrase—specific conditions. If there are repairs that need to be done or he needs to show the property to potential renters, he needs to give you a reasonable notice. If his entry is outlined in the lease, he still needs to provide you with a reasonable notice.
A landlord can only enter without notice in cases of emergency. Entering your apartment outside of these circumstances means your landlord is probably bored and just there to bother you.
7) I told my landlord that I was going to have my friend move into the apartment. After a month, he’s now telling me that I can’t have a roommate because it’s illegal and that he needs to leave immediately. Is this true?
No. A tenant can most definitely house a roommate.
In the case you do decide to have a roommate, you need to inform your landlord 30 days within your roommate moving in or upon the request of your landlord. Generally, if you’re not shooting off rockets or blasting 90s rock music at 3 AM with your roommate it should be fine to have a roommate.
In fact, a tenant is permitted to move in immediate family and one additional person and dependent children into a property. Whether or not you make any of these people pay part of the rent is up to the tenant. But because there are laws to prevent overcrowding, a landlord may limit the number of people a tenant takes in. However, make sure not to get this confused with subletting.
Subletting your apartment is a different issue and will require your landlord’s permission. Otherwise, you need to be living in your apartment to share it with a roommate or family. Subletting is essentially renting out your apartment to subtenants. For most cases, your landlord cannot unreasonably deny you subletting the apartment.
More Resources on New York Landlord Tenant Laws
It’s important for all New York residents to be familiar with New York State landlord laws. Even all of the above information does not exhaust the endless list of issues that may arise between a tenant and landlord.
Tenants’ rights and responsibilities within the tenant-landlord relationship are complex. There are a lot of resources to look to if you’re still not sure where you stand on an issue. Below is a list of some New York state-specific resources to use as guides. Happy hunting!
Tenants’ rights FAQs:
New York Roommate & Subletting Laws