The rental market in New York can be intense, particularly as you get closer to Manhattan. With so many young people filling up rental units, it’s important that everyone understands key New York landlord and tenant laws so that lawful and reasonable agreements can be reached between both parties.
Let’s go over the most important New York tenant law so you’re aware of your rights and the legal obligations of your landlord.
Utility Cut-Offs – Legal or Illegal?
Oftentimes, terrible landlords will threaten (or will actually go ahead) to cut off the utilities for their tenants, either as punishment or in an attempt to save money during colder months of the year. No matter which way they try to swing it, though, this behavior is illegal; don’t let a landlord yank you around on this aspect!
Landlords have a legal obligation to “provide a safe and livable environment” for their tenants according to New York law. This isn’t overly-complex; anything that would reasonably fall under the definition of unsafe or uncomfortable counts as a violation.
Specifically, landlords must:
- provide hot water every day throughout the year, 24/7
- provide reasonable heating in the days of October 1 and May 31
- eliminate bugs or other infestations
- ensure proper locks and window guards
- and more
Remember, your landlord can never cut off your electricity, heat, or water. Doing so is explicitly illegal and is a prime reason to take your landlord to court.
Sometimes landlords try a different tactic to intimidate their tenants: they may try to kick them out! But landlords are simply unable to legally evict anyone for no reason.
If you ever return home and find that your landlord has changed the padlocks or has otherwise taken steps to evict you without notice, they are acting illegally. Landlords can only move tenants out of their property if the written lease has expired or the tenant violates the lease in one or more ways. If your rent is on time and you haven’t broken any laws, you shouldn’t need to worry about eviction!
Even if you had done something wrong, landlords aren’t supposed to evict unlawful tenants. They’re supposed to get the help of the Sheriff’s office.
Always call the authorities if your landlord is taking steps to unlawfully evict you.
Rent Raising and Fair Notice
Rent raising laws are also crucially important. Let’s break them down:
- landlords have to give tenants 30 days’ notice before raising the rent more than 5%
- landlords can only raise the rent at the end of a lease period
- landlords can only raise the rent based on improvements to the property by 2% per year
Furthermore, if your rent is stabilized, your landlord can only raise your rent by a predetermined amount decided on by your city. Be sure to ask for rent payment history from your landlord if you want to make sure that they aren’t raising your rent too high.
Fees and Misc. Expenses
Don’t let your landlord push fees, like broker’s charges or listing agent fees, onto you with some lame excuse about, “finding someone to replace you”. All those charges are their own; all you’re responsible for is your rent.
Lack of Repairs
Your landlord also has certain legal obligations to provide repairs for any owned properties. Therefore, if certain things in your apartment building are not fixed under a reasonable timeframe, you may be able to withhold rent from them, although the conditions are very specific.
So long as your apartment is “livable, safe, and sanitary”, your landlord does not have to change anything about your apartment. You can only withhold rent from your landlord if there are specific repairs that need to be done and if you have alerted your landlord to the issue and given them enough time to tackle the problem.
For instance, you can’t withhold rent if you tell your landlord about an emergency repair and they don’t get it done within 15 minutes. The most important part of this law is that you must give your landlord the opportunity to fix something that’s broken or unsafe before taking things into your own hands.
If your landlord is too slow to respond, you can “repair and deduct”, meaning that you repair the issue yourself and deduct some cost for those repairs from your next rent payment.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure to keep lots of notes and documents about the entire process in case you have to go to court over the problem.
Be sure to understand applicable security deposit laws before signing a lease. Security deposits:
- must be kept in a separate bank account from the landlord’s personal account
- must be used only for repairs to the applicable property
- cannot be used for general repairs in the overall apartment building
These laws are in place because, technically speaking, any security deposit money is still your own. The landlord just holds it for you in case repairs are needed.
Furthermore, landlords have to provide an itemized receipt of a security deposit at the end of a lease if they use any of the money for repairs. They must give you your security deposit within 14 days of the lease expiring, too.
If your landlord breaches any of these laws, they’re in the wrong and you may be able to take them to court.
Entering the Apartment
Landlords are not able to enter a tenant’s property without giving them notice ahead of time, so never let a landlord claim that he or she is exempt from the law just because they technically own the property. This still applies if the landlord needs to perform repairs: reasonable notice is required at all times, full stop.
The only exception to this rule is if there’s an emergency. Feel free to kick your landlord out of your property if he or she violates these rules.
These rules are especially important for younger folks who might room together. Your landlord cannot prevent you from having a roommate, even if they don’t like it. New York law actually states that tenants can move immediate family, dependent children, or an extra person into a property so long as overcrowding doesn’t occur.
All in all, the majority of New York housing laws are specifically designed to protect tenants from landlords who would try to abuse them. Understanding these laws and how you can leverage them against a bad landlord will give you all the power in a situation and allow you to enjoy your time in your apartment. Be sure to read up on New York housing laws in more detail if you have more questions.