Residential Landlord Tenant

NYC provides residential tenants with substantial rights that are designed to protect their quality of life, safety and allow them to enjoy their home.  If landlords breach these rights, tenants may have legal defenses that prevent eviction or the payment of back rent.  Below is a brief synopsis of some terms that are relevant to residential landlord-tenant law. 

Leases

The landlord-tenant relationship is largely controlled by the lease agreement.  A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant that contains the terms and conditions of the rental. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless both parties agree. Leases for apartments that are not rent stabilized may be oral or written. To avoid disputes, the parties may wish to enter into a written agreement. A party must sign the lease to be bound by its terms. An oral lease for more than one year cannot be legally enforced.  See General Obligations Law § 5-701.  The lease agreement between a tenant and a landlord is one of the most important agreements in NYC.  It defines how renters enjoy their home, how the property will be maintained, and provides terms (or lease provisions) that both landlords and tenants must follow.  In addition to the terms expressly written in the lease, NYC provides numerous implied terms that all landlords must follow whether or not they are written in the lease.  These include quality of life measures such as the warranty of habitability, that requires the landlord to provide a livable, safe and sanitary apartment.  See Real Property Law §235-b. An example of a landlord’s breach of the warranty of habitability is a failure to provide heat or hot water on a regular basis, or the landlord’s failure to exterminate pests and insect infestations.  

If a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. Alternatively, rent regulated tenants can also file a rent reduction complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (“DHCR”).  Before filing such a complaint with DHCR for breach of the warranty, the tenant must communicate in writing with the landlord about the problem. A complaint may only be filed with DHCR not less than 10 days and not more than 60 days from the date the tenant sent a notice to the landlord. The tenant may also withhold rent, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for nonpayment of rent. In such case, the tenant may countersue for breach of the warranty.

Types of Housing

The type of housing being rented may also provide tenants additional rights.  For example rent regulated properties afford tenants with additional rights.  There are two types of rent regulation in New York State, rent control and rent stabilization.  An individual tenant’s rights will depend, in part, upon which regulations apply, although some apartments may have multiple laws governing their tenancies.  While tenants in rent regulated or government subsidized apartments have special rights, many rules and laws apply to both unregulated and regulated apartments.

Rent Control

Rent control limits the rent an owner may charge for an apartment and restricts the right of the owner to evict tenants. The rent control program applies to residential buildings constructed before February 1947 in municipalities that have not declared an end to the postwar rental housing emergency. Rent control is still in effect in New York City and parts of Albany, Erie, Nassau, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Westchester counties.  There are numerous provisions in the rent control law that can provide legal defenses to tenants depending on the facts of a case.

Rent Stabilization

In New York City, apartments are generally under rent stabilization if they are: 

  • An apartment that is not otherwise rent controlled in a building built before January 1, 1974 with six or more units; 
  • A formerly rent controlled apartments that became vacant without a lawful successor; 
  • In a building with three or more apartments constructed or extensively renovated on or after January 1, 1974 with special tax benefits, such as 421-a or J-51 tax abatements. Outside New York City, rent stabilized apartments are generally found in buildings with six or more apartments that were built before January 1, 1974. 

 

Local Rent Guidelines Boards in New York City, Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester counties set maximum rates for rent increases once a year which are effective for one or two year leases beginning on or after October 1 each year. Tenants in rent stabilized apartments are entitled to required essential services and lease renewals on the same terms and conditions as the original lease and may not be evicted except on grounds allowed by law. As of June 15, 2019, other localities are now able to enact their own rent stabilization laws if the locality declares a housing emergency. There are numerous provisions in the rent regulation law that can provide legal defenses to tenants depending on the facts of a case.

The above are just a few examples of different types of housing and lease provisions that affect tenant’s rights and defenses in an eviction case or back rent case.  Queens Eviction Attorneys closely examine the terms of your lease, the relevant legal provisions, and apply them to the facts of your case to provide you with the best possible resolution.

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