New York Landlord Tenant Law: What Tenants Need to Know
One of the topics that people frequently call us about is their rights as a tenant. What can a landlord legally do to them? Can they be evicted for not paying their rent, when something in the apartment needs fixing? What happens if the utilities don’t work? These are the types of questions we answer on a weekly basis here at Passalacqua & Associates, but let me give you a brief overview here.
First and foremost, tenants have rights. If you are faced with legal action brought by your landlord, knowing what those rights are becomes vitally important. Your gut reaction may be to just move out and avoid the hassle. Sometimes that is the best course of action, but you will never know that unless you know what your rights and responsibilities as a tenant are.
“What are my rights? And how do I know if my landlord is trying to put one over on me and violate the lease I signed? Excellent question! Here is what you need to know about the New York State Landlord Tenant Law.
- When I moved out, I asked my landlord for my security deposit back and he told me it was used for repairs to the common area of the building. Can he do that?
No! Under New York State Law a security deposit is still technically the tenant’s money.
The standard security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent. A landlord can use that money to pay for damages done to your apartment or for the last month’s rent. A security deposit is not to be used for routine maintenance in your apartment or around the building in which you live. That money is to be held as a deposit and held in a separate bank account that is not to be touched during the pendency of your lease. The landlord is also required to 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.
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.
- My landlord threatened to 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.
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 and you can withhold your rent payments until such time that he complies.
- Can my landlord raise my rent without telling me?
Maybe, depends on how he does it.
If you are a tenant with a year-long lease, a landlord cannot raise your rent while that lease is in effect. However, once that lease is expired, there is nothing that says the landlord cannot raise your rent for the next lease period. If you have a month-to-month lease, the landlord can give 30 days notice of a rent increase, because technically the lease expires at the end of each month. The lease automatically renews unless the landlord gives a one (1) tenancy period notice of a change or termination of the lease.
- My landlord keeps threatening to evict me. Does he have legal right to do that?
No. It is illegal for a landlord to simply evict a tenant.
In order for a landlord to evict a tenant, there must be a legal cause for the eviction. First, he must provide the tenant with notice of a breach of the alleged of the lease. Then the landlord must file a Summary Proceeding with the local municipal court to have a judge sign a Warrant of Eviction. However, before a judge will do that, the landlord must prove that the reason for the eviction is a legally sufficient one, i.e there was a material breach of the lease, the tenant has created a public nuisance, the tenant has failed to pay rent.
A landlord CAN NEVER engage in self-help, that is when the landlord decides to evict the tenant on his or her own. They cannot change the locks on a tenant or take the tenant’s property and throw it out into the street. There are strict and harsh penalties for actions such as these and any landlord who engages in such practice will surely regret it after the judge hears about what they did.
- Is it possible to withhold rent because the landlord is not fixing things I asked him to fix?
Yes. A tenant may withhold rent from the landlord under certain conditions.
As stated above, a landlord has a duty to provide his tenants with a habitable, safe, and sanitary place to live. That does not mean that a tenant can withhold rent if his mailbox door does not shut properly, or if the faucet in the bathroom leaks. The defect must be substantial and cause the apartment or residence to not be safe to live in. Examples would be no running water or working heat. If the residence was structurally unsound or condemned would be other reasons to withhold rent payments. Also included in this would be the security of the building if you live in an apartment complex.
In order to properly withhold rental payments, the tenant must advise the landlord of the defect, preferably in writing, and the landlord refuses to remedy the problem.
If the landlord takes no action to fix a problem, you may best be served by getting the problem fixed yourself and then deducting the amount paid to fix the problem from your next rent check, but you have to give him a chance to make the repairs himself first before you take this route.
- Is my landlord allowed to come into my apartment anytime he wants without knocking?
Actually, no. A landlord cannot enter a tenant’s property without proper notice.
Most residential leases state when and how a landlord is to notify a tenant when they want to enter their apartment. A landlord should provide ample notice to the tenant and a reason for wanting to enter the apartment. That reason could be any valid reason, such as to check on the condition of the property or to assess a problem with plumbing or electrical from an adjacent apartment.
The only time they can enter without notice is in the case of an emergency. Entering your apartment outside of these circumstances means your landlord is violating the lease and should cease that type of activity.
If you retain us to represent your interests as a tenant or a landlord, it then becomes our job to help you preserve your rights. Here at Passalacqua and Associates, we realize each of our clients are different and have different needs, but each client receives the attention they deserve when their rights are being protected. We will investigate your case and come up with a strategy that will put you in the best position to move on with your life. To discuss your case in more detail, please call us at 315-500-NICK (6425) or contact us through our online chat at www.CNYTRIALLAW.com