HABITABILITY AND REPAIRS
Tenants are entitled to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. Lease provisions inconsistent with this right are illegal. Failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or to rid an apartment of insect infestation are examples of a violation of this warranty. Public areas of the building are also covered by the warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability also applies to cooperative apartments, but not to condominiums. Any uninhabitable condition caused by the tenant or persons under his direction or control does not constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability. In such a case, it is the responsibility of the tenant to remedy the condition. (Real Property Law §235-b)
If a landlord breaches the warranty, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. The tenant may also withhold rent, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for non-payment of rent. In such a case, the tenant may countersue for breach of the warranty.
Rent reductions may be ordered if a court finds that the landlord violated the warranty of habitability. The reduction is computed by subtracting from the actual rent the estimated value of the apartment without the essential services.
A landlord's liability for damages is limited when the failure to provide services is the result of a union-wide building workers' strike. However, a court may award damages to a tenant equal to a share of the landlord's net savings because of the strike. Landlords will be liable for lack of services caused by a strike when they have not made a good faith attempt, where practicable, to provide services.
In emergencies, tenants may make necessary repairs and deduct reasonable repair costs from the rent. For example, when a landlord has been notified that a door lock is broken and willfully neglects to repair it, the tenant may hire a locksmith and deduct the cost from the rent. Tenants should keep receipts for such repairs.
LANDLORDS' DUTY OF REPAIR
Landlords of buildings with three or more apartments must keep the apartments and the buildings' public areas in "good repair" and clean and free of vermin, garbage or other offensive material. Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating systems and appliances landlords install, such as refrigerators and stoves in good and safe working order. Tenants should bring complaints to the attention of their local housing officials. (Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL) §78 and §80; Multiple Residence Law (MRL) §174. The MDL applies to cities with a population of 325,000 or more and the MRL applies to cities with less than 325,000 and to all towns and villages.)
Landlords of apartments in multiple dwellings in New York City where a child 6 years old or younger lives must protect against the possibility that children will be poisoned by peeling of dangerous lead based paint. Landlords must remove or cover apartment walls and other areas where lead based paint is peeling. The law presumes that lead based paint was used in the apartment if the building was built prior to January 1, 1960. (NYC Health Code §173.14) Landlords must provide all tenants with a pamphlet prepared by the federal Environmental Protection Agency which warns the tenants of the hazards of lead based paint and a disclosure form advising what the landlord knows about the presence of lead based paint in the apartment and building.
Landlords are required to take minimal precautions to protect against foreseeable criminal harm. For example, tenants who are victims of crimes in their building or apartment, and who are able to prove that the criminal was an intruder and took advantage of the fact that the entrance to the building was negligently maintained by the landlord, may be able to recover damages from the landlord.
ENTRANCE DOOR LOCKS AND INTERCOMS
Multiple dwellings which were built or converted to such use after January 1, 1968 must have automatic self-closing and self-locking doors at all entrances. These doors must be kept locked at all times -- except when an attendant is on duty.
If this type of building contains eight or more apartments it must also have a two-way voice intercom system from each apartment to the front door and tenants must be able to "buzz" open the entrance door for visitors.
Multiple dwellings built or converted to such use prior to January 1, 1968 also must have self-locking doors and a two-way intercom system if requested by a majority of the tenants. Landlords may recover from tenants the cost of providing this equipment. (Multiple Dwelling Law §50-a)
LOBBY ATTENDANT SERVICE
Tenants of multiple dwellings with eight or more apartments, are entitled to maintain a lobby attendant service for their safety and security, whenever any attendant provided by the landlord is not on duty. (Multiple Dwelling Law §50-c)
There must be a mirror in each self-service elevator in multiple dwellings so that people may see -- prior to entering --if anyone is already in the elevator. (Multiple Dwelling Law §51-b; NYC Admin. Code §27-2042)
INDIVIDUAL LOCKS, PEEPHOLES AND MAIL
Tenants in multiple dwellings can install and maintain their own locks on their apartment entrance doors in addition to the lock supplied by the landlord. The lock may be no more than three inches in circumference, and tenants must provide their landlord with a duplicate key upon request.
The landlord must provide a peephole in the entrance door of each apartment. Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City must also install a chain-door guard on the entrance door to each apartment, so as to permit partial opening of the door. (Multiple Dwelling Law §51-c; NYC Admin. Code §27-2043)
United States Postal regulations require landlords of buildings containing three or more apartments to provide secure mail boxes for each apartment unless the management has arranged to distribute the mail to each apartment. Landlords must keep the mail boxes and locks in good repair.
Outside New York City and in Buffalo, each apartment in a multiple dwelling (three or more apartments) must be equipped by the landlord with at least one smoke detector that is clearly audible in any sleeping area. (Multiple Residence Law §15; Buffalo Code Ch. 395)
Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City must also install one or more approved smoke detectors in each apartment near each room used for sleeping. Tenants may be asked to reimburse the owner up to $10.00 for the cost of purchasing and installing each battery-operated detector. During the first year of use, landlords must repair or replace any broken detector if its malfunction is not the tenant's fault. Tenants should test their detectors frequently to make sure they work properly. (NYC Admin. Code §27-2045, §27-2046)
Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City must install government approved window guards in each window in any apartment where a child ten years old or younger lives. Tenants are required to have such guards installed. In other cases, landlords are required to install window guards provided the tenant requests them. Windows giving access to fire escapes are excluded. Protective guards must also be installed on the windows of all public hallways. Landlords must give tenants an annual notice about their rights to window guards and must provide this information in a lease rider. Rent controlled and stabilized tenants may be charged for these guards. (NYC Health Code §131.15)
TENANT'S PERSONAL RIGHTS
Tenants have a legal right to organize. They may form, join, and participate in tenants' organizations for the purpose of protecting their rights. Landlords may not harass or penalize tenants who exercise this right. Tenants' groups have the right to meet in any common area in their building, such as lobbies and halls, in a peaceful manner, at reasonable hours without obstructing access to the premises or facilities. (Real Property Law §230)
Landlords are prohibited from harassing or retaliating against tenants who exercise their rights. For example, landlords may not seek to evict tenants solely because tenants (a) make good faith complaints to a government agency about violations of any health or safety laws; or (b) take good faith actions to protect rights under their lease; or (c) participate in tenants' organizations. Tenants may collect damages from landlords who violate this law, which applies to all rentals except owner-occupied dwellings with fewer than four units. (Real Property Law §223-b)
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Tenants have the right to privacy within their apartments. A landlord, however, may enter a tenant's apartment with reasonable prior notice, and at a reasonable time: (a) to provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services; or (b) in accordance with the lease; or (c) to show the apartment to prospective purchasers or tenants. In emergencies, such as fires, the landlord may enter the apartment without the tenant's consent. A landlord may not abuse this limited right of entry or use it to harass a tenant. A landlord may not interfere with the installation of cable television facilities. (Public Service Law §228) .
Landlords may not refuse to rent to anyone or renew leases of, or otherwise discriminate against, any person or group of persons because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, marital status or familial status. (Executive Law §296 (5)) In addition, in New York City, tenants are further protected against discrimination with respect to lawful occupation, sexual orientation or immigration status. Aggrieved tenants may complain to the New York City Human Rights Commission. (NYC Admin. Code §8-107(5)(a))
Landlords may not refuse to lease an apartment or discriminate against any person in the terms and conditions of the rental because that person has children living with them. This restriction does not apply to housing units for senior citizens which are subsidized or insured by the federal government or to one- or two-family owner occupied houses or manufactured homes. An aggrieved family may sue for damages against a landlord who violates this law and may recover attorneys fees. (Real Property Law §236)
In addition, a lease may not require that tenants agree to remain childless during their tenancy. (Real Property Law §237)
A landlord may not take any action to unlawfully force a rent regulated tenants to vacate their apartments or to give up any rights they have under the rent laws. Landlords found guilty of harassment are subject to fines of up to $5,000 for each violation. Tenants may contact DHCR if they believe they are the victims of harassment. Under certain circumstances, harassment can constitute a class E felony. (Penal Law Article 241)
Heat must be supplied from October 1 through May 31, to tenants in multiple dwellings if: a) the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, between 6 A.M. and 10 P.M., each apartment must be heated to a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit; (b) the outdoor temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, between the hours of 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., each apartment must be heated to a temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. (Multiple Dwelling Law § 79)
TRUTH IN HEATING
Before signing a lease requiring payment of individual heating and cooling bills, prospective tenants are entitled to receive from the landlord, a complete set or summary of the past two years' bills. These copies must be provided free upon written request. (Energy Law §17-103)
CONTINUATION OF UTILITY SERVICE
When the landlord of a multiple dwelling is delinquent in paying utility bills, the utility must give advance written notice to tenants and to certain government agencies of its intent to discontinue service. Service may not be discontinued if tenants pay the landlord's current bill directly to the utility company. Tenants can deduct these charges from future rent payments. The Public Service Commission can assist tenants with related problems.
If a landlord of a multiple dwelling fails to pay a utility bill and service is discontinued, tenants can receive payment for damages from the landlord. (Real Property Law § 235-a; Public Service Law §33)
Tenants in oil heated multiple dwellings may contract with an oil dealer, and pay for oil deliveries to their building, when the landlord fails to ensure a sufficient fuel supply. These payments are deductible from rent. Local housing officials have lists of oil dealers who will make fuel deliveries under these circumstances. (Multiple Dwelling Law §302-c; Multiple Residence Law §305-c)
FINDING AN APARTMENT
A consumer may retain a real estate broker to find a suitable apartment. New York State licenses real estate brokers and salespersons. Brokers charge a commission for their services which is usually a stated percentage of the first year's rent. The amount of the commission is not set by law and should be negotiated between the parties. The broker must assist the client in finding and obtaining an apartment before a commission may be charged. The fee should not be paid until the client is offered a lease signed by the landlord. Complaints against real estate brokers may be brought to the attention of the New York Department of State. (Real Property Law, Article 12-A)
APARTMENT REFERRAL AGENCIES
Businesses that charge a fee for providing information about the location and availability of rental housing must be licensed by the State. The fees charged by these firms may not exceed one month's rent. When the information provided by the firms does not result in a rental, the entire amount of any pre-paid fee, less $15.00, must be returned to the tenant. Criminal prosecution for violations of this law may be brought by the Attorney General. (Real Property Law, Article 12-C)
It is unlawful for a landlord to restrict occupancy of an apartment to the named tenant in the lease or to that tenant and immediate family. When the lease names only one tenant, that tenant may share the apartment with immediate family, one additional occupant and the occupant's dependent children, provided that the tenant or the tenant's spouse occupies the premises as his primary residence.
When the lease names more than one tenant, these tenants may share their apartment with immediate family, and, if one of the tenants named in the lease moves out, that tenant may be replaced with another occupant and the dependent children of the occupant. At least one of the tenants named in the lease or that tenant's spouse must occupy the shared apartment as his or her primary residence.
Tenants must inform their landlords of the name of any occupant within 30 days after the occupant has moved into the apartment or within 30 days of a landlord's request for this information. If the tenant named in the lease moves out, the remaining occupant has no right to continue in occupancy without the landlord's express consent. Landlords may limit the total number of people living in an apartment to comply with legal overcrowding standards. (Real Property Law §235-f) Tenants may keep pets in their apartments if their lease permits pets or is silent on the subject. Landlords may be able to evict tenants who violate a lease provision prohibiting pets. In multiple dwellings in New York City and Westchester County, a no-pet lease clause is deemed waived where a tenant "openly and notoriously" kept a pet for at least three months and the owner of the building or his agent had knowledge of this fact. However, this protection does not apply where the animal causes damage, is a nuisance, or substantially interferes with other tenants. (NYC Admin. Code §27-2009.1(b); Westchester County Laws, Chapter 694). Tenants who are blind or deaf are permitted to have guide dogs regardless of a no-pet clause in their lease. (Civil Rights Law §47)
SPECIAL TYPES OF HOUSING
The rights, duties and responsibilities of Manufactured Home Parks' owners and tenants are governed by Real Property Law §233, popularly known as the "Manufactured Home Owners Bill of Rights". The DHCR has the authority to enforce compliance with this law.
The rights, duties and responsibilities of New York City loft owners and tenants are governed by Multiple Dwelling Law, Article 7-C. The New York City Loft Board has the authority to enforce this law.
The rights, duties and responsibilities of New York City residential hotel owners and tenants are governed by the rent stabilization law. The DHCR has the authority to enforce compliance with this law.