By The New York Times
Q-I have been renting a home for about a year and a half. My lease is not up until June, but I need to get out of my lease prior to that. My grandfather is very ill and has decided that he wants to purchase a home of my own for me as my inheritance. I already have the house picked out and we are ready to proceed with closing on the transaction. My grandfather is going to take out a small loan and I will pay rent to cover that payment amount until he passes, at which time, per his will the loan balance will be paid in full and the property will pass to me through a beneficiaries deed. How do I get out of my lease early without having to pay for the remaining balance of my lease? I cannot afford to make a payment for two properties when I am only occupying one. Thank you in advance for you help in this matter.
A-The current state of New York law is such that unless you can reach an amicable arrangement with your landlord, or there are conditions in the apartment which are causing you to vacate, you will likely remain liable for the payment of the rent for the balance of the lease term.
Since we haven’t had an opportunity to review your lease agreement (or other documents that relate to your tenancy), it’s certainly possible that we’ve made some assumptions that may not be entirely accurate. We strongly urge you to meet with a lawyer as soon as possible so that he or she can guide you through the steps you’ll need to take minimize your exposure.
Here’s wishing you the best of luck with your new home.
Q-My building was recently sold to a developer. We have been going month-to-month as tenants. The developer has just issued a 45-day eviction notice and says we must be moved out by the 29th of February. Renovation is planned and the units will be sold as condos. (The day before my wedding, I might add.) Is there any legal recourse for me?
A-Generally speaking, month-to-month tenancies can be terminated with as little as 30 days’ notice. However, there are an array of requirements as to that notice’s timing and how it must be served on an apartment’s occupants. There is also case law that governs the wording (or form) that must be utilized by the landlord and who may sign that document.
An error or omission made by the landlord (or its lawyer) can impact the document’s validity and impact its effectiveness. If that’s the case, a landlord would be unable to start an eviction proceeding as quickly as you or they might think. Clearly, the document should be reviewed by a lawyer as soon as possible, so that he or she can provide you with appropriate guidance.
By the way, are you certain you’re not a regulated tenant? You should also inquire with a lawyer to verify your status. It’s certainly possible that you may qualify for additional protections. Good luck to you!
Q-I understand it’s a crime for a landlord to harass a tenant who complains about no heat in winter (something that has just happened to me). My landlord has threatened to evict me because I complained to the city about no heat, though I haven’t been served papers yet. My question is: Can I sue the landlord?
A-Unless you live in a building which was previously used for manufacturing or warehouse purposes, New York law does not currently recognize “harassment” as a basis upon which you can sue your landlord for monetary damages. With that said, you may be entitled to seek other relief, like a court order stopping the landlord from continuing to engage in conduct that interferes with “comfort, repose, peace or quiet.” And, if you are a rent-stabilized tenant, you can also file a complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community and Renewal, which will investigate the matter.
More important, there is a state law that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based solely on their participation in a tenants’ organization, their assertion of rights under the lease or applicable law, and/or for the good-faith filing of complaints with government authorities. So, a landlord won’t be able to evict you merely because you have filed complaints with the city. (Some other misconduct on your part will be required.)
A landlord’s failure to provide essential services like heat and hot water may prove to be a violation of a state law known as the “warranty of habitability.” Such a breach could entitle you (and other tenants in your building) to a rent “abatement” or reduction for such periods you were denied heat.
Since your landlord is threatening you with eviction, it behooves you to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible so that you can more fully explore the rights and remedies that may be available to you.
Q-A few years back a roommate and I rented an apartment. Because of my former roommate’s bad credit history, the lease was under my name. My then-roommate painted the living room and his room in different colors, other than the white the apartment it was when we moved in, even though the lease clearly said this was not permitted. He also changed the front door’s lock, again, not permitted as per the lease, needless to say the landlord was not happy about it. We did paint the apartment back to white because of his insistence. Two years later, after the lease was about to expire, I decided to not pay the last month’s rent and let the landlord keep the one month’s deposit. I then received a phone call from his office saying this was not allowed and that I needed to pay as soon as possible. After I mailed the last rent check I received a call from the landlord himself telling me that he would keep the month’s deposit and that I did not need to mail the rent for the last month. After I told him the check had already been mailed he said he would mail me a check for the month’s deposit. As of this day I have not received that check for the month’s deposit. Is there anything I can do to get that money from him? What are my options? Thanks for your help, Mr. Ferrara.
A-While it is “customarily” done, New York State law does not permit a tenant to withhold the last month’s rent (merely because the owner is holding a security deposit of like sum).
Think of a security deposit as more a “safety net” for a landlord. It is intended to ensure that the tenant complies with his or her obligations under a lease and that the premises are returned to the landlord in the condition they were originally received (reasonable wear and tear excepted).
Typically, when a landlord refuses to return a deposit it’s usually because of a claim of “offset” — that the premises were left in a damaged state that required repair and that the security monies were necessary to finance those renovations. Most landlords will document the damage and provide the former tenant with proof (by way of paid receipts or estimates) of the costs incurred.
Have you documented your request for the return of the security? Have you kept proof (like certified mail receipts) that you have made those requests? If not, you may wish to send out a letter, by receipted delivery, demanding the immediate return of your security.
If the landlord is unresponsive, or is unable to document the repair costs in a satisfactory manner, you may file a Small Claims Court case against the landlord (seeking to recover the proceeds), and/or may file a complaint with the Office of the New York State Attorney General.
Q-I am 70 years old and live in a rent-stabilized apartment. Am I exempt from rent raises that occur every two years?
A-Generally speaking, seniors are not exempt from rent increases unless they qualify for some form of assistance from a government sponsored program.
By way of example, in New York City, regulated tenants who are 62 years of age or older may be able to “freeze” rent hikes, provided they meet certain household income restrictions and other requirements. (The city then affords the landlord a dollar-for-dollar tax abatement credit.) For more information about that program, call 311 or visit the New York City Department of Aging’s Web site.
Q-I moved out of my West Village apartment in May 2007 and have yet to receive my security deposit back from my landlord, Croman Real Estate, despite dozens of phone calls (which have never been returned — I only have received voice mail), a visit to their offices on Broadway in SoHo in person last August, and letters. I now live in London and feel helpless. What are my legal options? The NYC.gov Web site states that the landlord must return the security deposit within a “reasonable” amount of time — what exactly does that mean? I have heard that Croman Real Estate is notoriously slow about returning security deposits but this to me is unconscionable.
A-When a tenant vacates an apartment at the end of a lease, a landlord is obligated to return the full amount of the security deposit, plus interest accrued thereon, provided that the tenant has fully complied with all of the lease’s terms and conditions — including payment of all the rent and delivery of possession of the premises to the landlord in its original condition (ordinary “wear and tear” excepted).
While there is no bright-line standard of what is a “reasonable” amount of time to process the return of a security deposit, eight months strikes us as excessive.
Since you live abroad, your best bet may be to file a formal complaint with the Office of the New York State Attorney General.
Additionally, upon your return from London, you may also file a Small Claims Court case.
Q-I live in a studio apartment and am now on a month-to-month lease. My landlord pays all utility bills. Am I obligated to tell my landlord when my boyfriend moves in with me?
A-New York Real Property Law § 235-f — commonly known as the “Roommate Law” – provides that a tenant must inform the landlord of the name of any new “occupant” — defined as someone other than a tenant named on the lease or a member of a tenant’s “immediate family” — within 30 days of that person taking occupancy of the unit or within 30 days of a landlord’s request for that information.
While your landlord may not prohibit you from having a roommate, since you believe you are not a regulated tenant, it is certainly possible the owner may opt to bring your “month-to-month” tenancy to an end (by serving you with a 30-day Notice of Termination).
If you believe your landlord is going to “retaliate” against you for taking on a roommate, you should consider consulting with a lawyer to determine your rights and remedies and to decide on the best course of action.
Q-I recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment in a six-apartment building and our neighbors directly above us are a huge problem for us. Their apartment is the exact same size as the one my girlfriend and I share (it is tight for us, I might add) and in it they are fitting a husband, wife, grandmother, teenage son, 20-something daughter and her two school-age children. All in the one tiny apartment, all are very, very loud. They leave their door wide open and use the hallway as if it’s part of their apartment (their apartment occupies half of the top floor) and are very, very loud at all hours. Complaints to the landlord have had no results. Is there anything I personally can do? Formal complaints to the city? Are there rules against over-occupancy of such a tiny space? If things don’t change I will be forced to break lease and find somewhere else to live.
A-Excessive and unreasonable levels of noise emanating from a neighboring apartment (particularly during the early-morning or late-evening hours) may be found to comprise a violation of a state law known as the “warranty of habitability.” This statute comes into play when a landlord, despite notice, fails to take any effective steps to abate a “nuisance” like the kind you have described.
Your complaints to the building’s owner need to be documented and records should be maintained of the disturbances. (By way of example, you should keep a diary or log and record such information as the dates, times, nature and duration of the disruptions.) Once you have established a pattern of the misbehavior, copies of that information should be forwarded to the owner. That information can be utilized as the basis of a case to have the “miscreants” evicted from the building.
It would also be very helpful to your position if other tenants openly expressed their dissatisfaction with your neighbors’ conduct. That could also help pressure a landlord to take action.
Should that fail, you would be well advised to meet with a lawyer who can review the array of options that are available to you.
Q-My roommates and I have had myriad problems with our landlord. We have frequent leaks and a lot of water damage. We’ve also had a lot of issues with the appliances and we have been told frequently that these things are our fault and we must therefore pay to fix them. We are hoping to move out sooner rather than later and we have read the Eliot Spitzer-attorney general tenant’s rights guide. We are a little confused about the language, particularly about the difference between a landlord reasonably refusing consent or unreasonably refusing consent to assign the lease and/or sublet. We’d prefer to assign the lease but would sublet if it means moving out of the apartment. How will we know if he has reasonably or unreasonably refused consent?
A-Generally, in buildings with four or more residential units, tenants may sublease their apartments, despite any restrictions or prohibitions that may appear in their leases. But, unless your agreement affords you greater rights, you will ultimately need to get your landlord’s written consent to the arrangement.
While subleasing can take on a variety of forms, most people know it as the practice of giving up an apartment for a year or two and allowing someone else to occupy the space in the tenant’s absence. (Subleasing is ideal when a tenant wishes to return and resume occupancy of the unit.)
According to New York State law — RPL § 226-b — landlords may not unreasonably refuse their consent to a sublet request. While what is “reasonable” (or “unreasonable”) has been the subject of quite a few court decisions, let’s just say your landlord may only base a decision on such objective (nondiscriminatory) factors as the subtenant’s credit history, financial fitness, employment history, standing in the community and references.
The law spells out in considerable detail what information and documents you are required to supply your landlord and how those materials are to be presented. Once that application is submitted, an owner is allowed to request additional information from both you and proposed subtenant. If the landlord fails to act expeditiously, or imposes onerous conditions or demands, the sublet is deemed to have been agreed to as a matter of law and the tenant may proceed with the transaction. (Keep in mind that a tenant remains primarily liable for the payment of rent during this temporary absence. So, if your subtenant defaults in making payments, or “skips out,” you will still be required to pay the rent to the landlord.)
An “assignment” occurs when tenants are permitted to convey all their existing rights in a lease to a new tenant. (In other words, you are giving up exclusive possession and control of the space to someone else for the balance of your lease and never intend to return to the unit.) Should that be your preference, make sure to receive a written “release from the lease” from your current landlord, or you could end up being responsible for any rent which is not paid by the tenant who may take over your lease.
Since many people do not understand the difference between a “sublet” and an “assignment,” and how this particular process works, it’s best to consult with a lawyer so that he or she may walk you through the procedure and provide you with a professional opinion as to whether or not your landlord is acting “reasonably” under the circumstances.
Q-I live in a two-family house, and the landlord has informed me that effective April 2008, he will raise my rent $100 more a month. Is this legal, is there a cap? Is this market value? Where can i find out re: market value?
A-Unless your apartment is subject to some form of rent regulation, there is currently no limit or “cap” on the amount of money a landlord may charge a tenant when a lease is up for renewal. (In fact, with free-market tenants, a landlord is not legally obligated to offer a renewal — unless that right was previously negotiated and appropriately documented.)
The best way to gauge market value and conditions is to look at the rental listings online or in the your local newspaper and to contact real estate brokers in your area to get a sense of what other owners are charging for comparable space.
Remember, free-market rents are always negotiable. If you have been a model tenant who has paid on time, kept a tidy apartment and maintained a low profile, you might be able to persuade the landlord to knock a few bucks off the price based on good behavior.
Good luck with your negotiations!
A-In NYC, is the oral extension of a one-year written lease for another year i) a holdover tenancy, ii) a month-to-month tenancy, or iii) a tenancy for years? How does the statute of frauds play into this? If the oral extension is void due to the statute of frauds, is the result a month-to-month tenancy? What statute governs this?
Q-An “oral extension of a one-year written lease for another year,” is a one-year lease.
In the State of New York, oral leases are valid and binding as long as they cover a period that does not exceed a year.
If an oral lease extends for longer than one year, then the “statute of frauds” requires that a written agreement be made and signed. Keep in mind that the clock starts to tick on the day the oral agreement was made — not on the day the parties expected the lease to start. (So, if you entered into an oral lease with your landlord on Monday and agreed that the one-year period would start on Friday, that one year and five days would trigger the law’s writing requirement.)
Of course, whether or not you’ll be able to prove the existence of an “oral lease” to a judge’s satisfaction is a completely different matter. That’s why it’s always best to have everything documented.
Typically, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, rent acceptance creates a “month-to-month” tenancy which is terminable on 30 days’ notice. (In the City of New York that termination notice must be in writing. Outside the City of New York, that notice may be in oral or in written form.)
The law which provides that a month-to-month tenancy comes into existence when rent is accepted after a lease’s expiration can be found at Real Property Law § 232-c.
Q-I live in an apartment with hardwood floors and the lease states that 75% of flooring must be covered by rugs. The people above me do not have 75% covered and walk so loudly that the picture frames in my apartment rattle - it sounds like someone banging a rubber mallet on the floor. They are insomniacs and regularly wake us up at various times in the middle of the night (2am, 3am, 4am) and also every morning at 5am.
I’ve been a long time resident (15 years) of my building and now feel like my rights are being violated by these tenants of 2 years. Shouldnt the landlord provide me “peaceful enjoyment” of my premises and also enforce the lease by inspecting and requiring them to cover the floors with rugs? Do I have any legal recourse against my neighbors? The Landlord? Can I push to get them evicted?
A-Excessive noise and vibrations violate a New York State law known as the “warranty of habitability.” That statute — Real Property Law § 235-b — requires landlords to ensure that all residential rental units are free of conditions detrimental to the occupants’ life, safety and well-being, even when the hazards are caused by third parties (like fellow tenants).
If you have not already done so, document the disruptions (by date and time, etc.) and once you have compiled a log of events, forward a copy of that information to your landlord by receipted delivery. The data you supply can be used by the owner as the basis of an eviction proceeding against your neighbors.
If the conditions persist, and your landlord refuses to require your neighbors to carpet their unit (as required by the lease), then you will be able to assert an independent claim against your landlord for violating the law.
Keep in mind, that should you need to take the matter to court, the problem will be one of “proof.” To increase the likelihood of winning this kind of case, you may want to consider hiring an expert to measure the noise and vibration levels you are experiencing. An expert’s analysis will buttress your position and will likely be more persuasive than your mere recitation of the facts and circumstances.
In addition to withholding rent and asking a judge to award you a rent reduction or “abatement,” you may be able to get an injunction from your local Supreme Court directing the landlord to take all appropriate action to reduce or eliminate this annoyance.
Since there are pros and cons to every option, it’s best to speak to a lawyer so that you can arrive at a strategy that will best suit your purposes
Q-My landlord offers me $40K if I move out from my rent-stabilized apartment I’ve been living for over 10 years.
Should I take it? If I refuse to take it, can they still force me to move out?
A-Based on the limited information you have supplied, it’s impossible to determine whether the offer you have received is appropriate under the circumstances. There are many factors that influence an owner’s decision to offer a buy-out and we’re not privy to any of them.
Over the past two decades, buy-outs have ranged the gamut, from $0 to $16 Million. (That’s right, $16 million.) So, it’s certainly in your interest to with consult with a lawyer to see if the offer you received can be improved. (Keep in mind that some lawyers will work on a set-fee or hourly arrangement, while others may insist on a contingency.)
Whether or not you can be forced out of your apartment will depend on such unknowns as the owner’s plans for the building, the number of regulated residents remaining in the structure, and, whether you are perceived to have violated the lease or law in a way that would justify commencing an eviction proceeding against you.
Q-I have been living in a rent-stabilized building since July 2004. However, the rent listed on my lease is a “preferential rent” and is thus lower than the legal rent. Does the landlord have the right to increase my rent at any rate? My building was recently sold to a new landlord, and the new landlord began raising the rents beyond the rent guidelines increase. Last year, my rent was increased by $830 (approximately a 34% increase) and I find this to be appalling.
A-Many readers are asking whether reduced or “preferential rents” offered to regulated tenants can be rescinded. The answer to that question will depend, in large part, on the wording which appears in your lease.
Prior to 2001, when a landlord gave a regulated tenant a break, the reduced rental rate served as the basis for future rent increases and could not be undone until the tenant vacated the unit. That policy changed as a result of an appellate decision and legislation which amended the Rent Stabilization Code.
Now, if you were to read a “Fact Sheet” issued by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, that state agency has taken the position that owners may rescind the reduction and charge the higher legal regulated rent upon a lease renewal. Appellate cases suggest that when the parties have “unequivocally and explicitly” intended that the preferential rate would last for the duration of the tenancy, or other time period, that agreement is fully enforceable and may not be unilaterally retracted by a landlord (or a successor purchaser).
To view a copy of the Housing and Community Renewal “Fact Sheet” on this particular topic, please use this link.
You’ll need to consult with a lawyer to assess whether there was a lawful basis to increase your rent in the manner you have described and whether you have a basis to challenge the owner’s conduct.
Q-Our owner is making cosmetic improvements in our 1960s doorman building (upper eastside): new hall carpet, new hall lighting, upgrading the elevators (but not increasing their size or speed, just their appearance so there is no increased service). Can he claim a capital improvement surcharge for changes that are not functional but which bring the building more into line with other rental hi-rises in the area, presumably with an eye to keeping competitive?
This building of more than 450 units has but one service elevator. It is being “upgraded,” too…but, again, its size and speed won’t be increased. Is there basis for passing along that cost to the tenants?
He did get a capital improvement continuing assessment for putting in new windows. I don’t know why: I can’t see out of them any better or raise them more easily….
A-When a landlord makes a structural improvement to a building, there may be an entitlement to collect an increase, known as a “major capital improvement” or “MCI” increase, from each of the building’s regulated tenants.
These charges may not be collected until such time as a state agency, known as Housing and Community Renewal, authorizes the charge and sets the amount. (The MCI increase is allocated on a per-room basis and becomes part of the legal regulated rent for the purpose of computing future rent increases.)
Not all work qualifies. (For example, mere “cosmetic improvements” would be excluded from the pass-a-long calculation, but cosmetic work performed in conjunction with a major improvement would be considered by the agency.) Housing and Community Renewal has also promulgated a “useful life” schedule for frequently performed renovations — like the replacement of windows and air-conditioning systems. If an item’s “useful life” has not expired, an increase for the item may not be approved, particularly in the absence of some exigency such as an emergency replacement or repair.
Tenants are afforded an opportunity to object to the proposed MCI increase and may challenge the adequacy or propriety of the work performed. So, when you receive notification of the increase from Housing and Community Renewal, you (and the other tenants of your building) should consider filing appropriate objections to the work and/or costs. You may also wish to notify the DHCR of any problems you are experiencing with the work performed.
Q-Don’t you think it should have been revealed in the intro that you are a landlord lawyer, not a tenant lawyer, and that your firm primarily represents landlords?
A-First and foremost, I am a lawyer.
And while my firm primarily represents landlords, we also represent tenants.
As a law school professor and an author of legal textbooks, I strive to interpret the law as objectively and impartially as humanly possible. (Once you’ve had an opportunity to review my responses to the many posts I received, I’m certain you’ll agree that the responses are fair and balanced.)
Q-I would like to know what the definition of income is for the $175,000 income limit (2 years in a row) on rent stabilized apartments once the rent goes above $2000/month. Is it the Federal Adjusted Gross Income (for income taxes), or is it the New York State Adjusted Gross Income, or is it something else? Does it include the non-taxable portion of Social Security or the interest income from non-taxable investments such as triple-tax-free New York municipal bonds (which don’t appear in the Adjusted Gross Income)? Thank you for your help.
A-Rent-regulated apartments may be deregulated when the legal rent reaches $2,000 (or more) and when the tenant’s annual household income — that is, the federal adjusted gross income as reported on New York State income tax returns — exceeds $175,000 for the two calendar years preceding the deregulation application’s filing.
The process is commonly known as “luxury deregulation” or “high-rent high-income decontrol.”
For additional information on the luxury deregulation process, here’s a link to a “Fact Sheet” released by Housing and Community Renewal.
Q-Can you interpret this law for me:
Sec. 27-2107 Failure to register; penalties
a. A person who is required to file a statement of registration or an amendment of a statement of registration or any other statement required under this article and who fails to file as required may, whenever appropriate, be punished under the provisions of article three of subchapter five of this code, and such person shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than two hundred and fifty dollars and not more than five hundred dollars, recoverable by the department by civil action in a court of appropriate jurisdiction.
An owner who is required to file a statement of registration under this article and who fails to file as required shall be denied the right to recover possession of the premises for nonpayment of rent during the period of noncompliance, and shall, in the discretion of the court, suffer a stay of proceedings to recover rents, during such period. In any action to recover possession under section seven hundred eleven of the real property actions and proceedings law, the owner shall set forth his or her registration number issued by the department, and shall allege that he or she has filed a statement of registration and shall annex a copy of the receipt of such registration to his or her petition.
A-According to local law, all New York City “multiple dwellings” – generally defined as buildings which house three or more families living independently of each another – are required to be registered with the Property Registration Unit of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Failure to comply with this law can subject a landlord to the delineated array of fines and penalties which include the inability to start (or maintain) a nonpayment-of-rent case against any of the tenants living in that building.
(Until fairly recently, noncompliance with this law also impeded a landlord’s ability to start a holdover case. However, as a result of some appellate decisions, while a holdover may now be brought, no rent can be recovered.)
Q-The city recently installed a fire hydrant on my block in Brooklyn. Consequently, my superintendant has to turn off the water in the morning, and turn it on in the evening. However, when the water is turned back on, it does not reach the top floors until early in the mornings,or not at all. After numerous complaints to my landlord, superintendent and 311, there has been no consistent resolution to this problem.
Are there circumtances that a tenant can sue a landlord for negligence, and be reimbursed for the inconveniences?
A-In this particular instance, you wouldn’t sue your landlord for “negligence.” You would assert a claim that the owner has breached the “warranty of habitability” — Real Property Law Section 235-b — a New York State law which provides that rental apartments must be “fit for human habitation” and free of conditions “which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety.”
Courts have interpreted this law as conditioning a tenant’s obligation to pay rent upon a landlord’s compliance with its statutory obligation to maintain an apartment in “habitable condition.”
Believe it or not, the acts of third parties — like Con Edison or even the City of New York — will not excuse a landlord from its obligations to comply with this law.
Since the failure to provide running is a serious violation, you would arguably be entitled to a rent “abatement” or reduction for the period(s) of time you are without service. If you anticipate litigation, it is of utmost importance that you maintain a log and document the specifics of the outages (by date, time, and duration). That kind of record will help buttress your claim.
You are strongly encouraged to consult with a lawyer so that he or she can review all the options available to you.
Q-I would like to adopt a dog, but there is a no-pet clause in my lease. However, I had a cat before moving into the apartment 5 years ago and had received permission from the landlord that the cat was O.K., as moving in was contingent on this specific issue. (This cat has lived here ever since.) Does his knowledge of the cat nullify the no-pet clause?
A-According to our courts’ interpretation of the New York City “Pet Law,” the type of waiver you have described would likely be viewed as “pet specific” – meaning that the landlord’s permission for you to have “a cat” was limited to that particular animal and did not signify that you could have another animal of your choosing, including another feline. (With that said, a lawyer would need to review your lease and the precise nature of the permission you received to afford you a better assessment of your rights.)
By the way, while there is a bill pending in the New York City Council to change the law – and to allow tenants to have pets of their choosing once the no-pet clause is waived – that proposed modification has been stalled for the past several years.
Q-I’m the rent-stabilized tenant of a two-bedroom apartment. I’m getting a roommate pursuant to RPL 226. We’re signing a roommate agreement to make sure we know where we stand, but I’m unsure how to keep the situation between us from becoming a landlord-tenant relationship. I have to take his rent payments, but I also have to live with him. What would you advise?
A-I don’t think you mean Real Property Law § 226-b – which is commonly known as the “Subletting Law.” (That law would require you to secure your landlord’s consent to the arrangement.) I believe you are referring to the “Roommate Law” – Real Property Law § 235-f.
Under § 235-f you are permitted to share occupancy of your apartment with others (subject to delineated restrictions) and need not get your landlord’s consent to the arrangement.
While you are certainly free to enter into a formal understanding with your “roomie” over apportioning costs and can attempt to characterize that agreement as creating something other than a “landlord-tenant” relationship, be forewarned that there are no assurances that a judge will agree with that characterization. The acceptance of rent will likely be viewed as creating a month-to-month tenancy which would require that you give that individual a 30-day Notice of Termination (and start a holdover case) should you opt to end the relationship and your “roomie” will not voluntarily vacate the premises.
Also, if you are a regulated tenant, do not collect more than a proportionate share of the rent from your co-occupant to avoid charges of “profiteering” – which could subject you to eviction.
If you’re uncertain how to structure this arrangement with your roommate, consult with a lawyer who can guide you through the process.
Q-My roommate and I rent an apartment in Queens with no lease. My roommate has lived there for 3 years with no rent increase. I have lived there for one year on this same rate. The landlord now wants to increase the rent by 10% and in 6 months raise it another 10% (initially she was going to raise it by 20% all at once, but we complained). Without a lease, do we have any rights in regards to rent increases? Without a lease what rights do we have in general?
A-Your rights depend on whether or not the unit is subject to some form of rent regulation.
Free-markets units are not currently subject to any limits or “caps” — which means a landlord is usually free to ask for as much (or as little) as the market will bear. And without the benefit of a written lease “locking in” your monthly rental rate for a set time frame, it is not surprising to see that your rent will be increasing over time. (You have a choice. If you believe the rate demanded is unfair or unreasonable, or is not consistent with the rent sought by other owners in the area, you should consider relocating to another building.)
If you live in a structure with six or more residential units, it is possible that you may be subject to rent stabilization and would therefore be entitled to an array of protections, including the right to a lease renewal of either a one- or two-year term. The owner would also be prohibited from bumping-up the legal regulated rent beyond certain percentage rates authorized by law. (From October 1, 2007, through and including September 30, 2008, a landlord of a NYC stabilized building may only increase the rent 3% if tenants opt for a one-year renewal, 5.75% if a two-year term is selected.)
To determine whether or not your unit is subject to rent regulation, contact Housing and Community Renewal.
Of course, consulting with a lawyer wouldn’t hurt either.
Q-My mother and father separated, my father moved out of the apartment they shared, which is a rent stabilized apartment, the lease is in my fathers name, the current lease is set to expire, and a new lease has been offered under my fathers name, how does my mother go about claiming succession rights, and will it require, my father’s input?
A-Succession rights – the right to “inherit” or “takeover” a regulated tenant’s interests in an apartment – are subject to an array of statutory and regulatory requirements which your mother appears to have satisfied.
If she lived in the unit with you father from the tenancy’s inception, or from beginning of their relationship, or for a period of at least two years prior to your father’s departure from the unit, then the statutory threshold will have been met and she may remain as a rent-stabilized tenant in her own right.
You can expect the landlord to require some form of proof that your parents are legally separated and/or that your father is surrendering his interests in the premises to your mother, before the owner will issue a renewal lease solely in her name.
Should the owner resist, or prove uncooperative, you should contact Housing and Community Renewal and/or consult with a lawyer who can walk you through the process.
For an informative “Fact Sheet” promulgated by Housing and Community Renewal on “Succession,” please use this link.
My landlord drags his feet in getting me a new lease every year, and when he does, he wants back-rent for the difference in the amount the rent has raised since the end of the last lease. The lease is back-dated to the start of the end of the last lease, but am I obligated to pay the difference in back-rent or can I just state that the lease should start from the date I finally receive it?
It seems like tenants have no rights when it comes to non-stabilized apts. because if you fight anything the landlord can just not offer a new lease and then you are out on the street! Are landlords required to offer new leases?
A-As you have anticipated, the owner of a “free market” or “unregulated” unit is not required to grant a tenant a renewal lease. Should one be offered, the terms are entirely subject to an owner’s whim. (In this particular instance, the request to back-date the increase doesn’t strike us as unfair or unreasonable, particularly since you “held over” and remained in possession beyond the expiration of your last lease’s term and, based on your prior interaction with the owner, expected there would a rent hike in the offing.)
Conversely, you are under no legal obligation to accept the offer, are free to negotiate a lower amount, and, may decline the renewal and relocate to another apartment should you be unable to reach an agreement that is acceptable to you.
Of course, our answer would have been completely different had you been a regulated tenant. For rent-stabilized tenants, for example, a lease renewal offer must be made to the tenant 90 to 150 days prior to then existing lease’s expiration. If that window is missed, the percentage increase (set by law) for either a one- or two-year lease would not begin until 90 days after the renewal was properly presented to the tenant for consideration. Your landlord would not be able to back-date the agreement nor retroactively recoup the increase. (In other words, the old rate would remain in place until such time as that 90-day period lapsed.)
Here’s wishing you luck with your negotiations!
Q-I’ve read online that the law requires a building’s super to live either in the building or within 3 blocks. I’m unable to locate this law or any evidence outside of hearsay. What do you know. about this?
A-Take a look at the New York City Housing Maintenance Code § 27-2073. (To view a copy of the HMC, please use this link: http://www.housingnyc.com/html/resources/hmc/sub2/art13 .html)
By way of a quick overview, that particular law requires owners of buildings with nine or more units to provide janitorial services. If the owner resides in the building, he or she can perform the services. Otherwise, a janitor or super must be hired.
According to the Housing Maintenance Code, it is not required that the super actually live in the building. It is legally acceptable if the janitor resides within a block or no more than 200 feet away, whichever is greater.
While the law also permits owners to hire an outside company to perform the services, if that option is selected, the company must be on-call 24/7.
Q-How did you get involved in landlord-tenant law? I am a litigation associate at a big firm and would like to know what your career trajectory has been.
A-Now that’s a loaded question.
To be quite frank, it was a fluke.
Over 20 years ago, I was associated with an entertainment law firm which merged with a group of real-estate litigators … and it’s been downhill ever since.
But seriously, it’s a long story and one best left for another day. You’re certainly free to give me a holler offline (via e-mail or telephone) and I’d be happy to share all the sordid details with you.
Q-I moved out of my apartment for personal reasons a year before the lease ends. The landlord wants be to find my own sublettor and pay the rent in the meantime even though I am not living there. Do I really need to pay the rent for the next year or are there other remedies? I don’t have any money and can’t afford to pay the rent.
Q-Prematurely vacating an apartment (prior to your lease’s expiration) is fraught with peril.
Depending on where you live in the state, and in which court your case is heard, a landlord might be required to assist you with reletting the space. But, generally speaking, here in the New York City area, a landlord is usually under no legal obligation to release you from the lease or help you find a replacement tenant. The liability for the rent and responsibility for the unit remain yours.
With that said, if there were conditions that made all or part of the apartment unsafe, unusable or uninhabitable, and your departure was triggered by the unacceptability of those conditions, you might have a stronger defense to the landlord’s demands.
You would be well advised to meet with a lawyer to further discuss your options.
I live in a rent-stabilized one bedroom apartment in a building with over 100 rental units. I believe that the apartment has become infested with bed bugs. My basis for this belief is the bites all over my body in a pattern that is typical of bed bugs. My landlord refuses to pay for the eradication of the bugs on the grounds that: 1) a visual inspection has shown no evidence of bed bugs; 2) I “must have introduced them into the apartment myself;” and 3) he is not obligated to pay. I have never knowingly been exposed to bed bugs. Furthermore, there is at least one other bed-bug-infested unit in my building. It is my understanding that the housing code requires that the landlord pay for bed bug eradication in rent stabilized units. Am I correct?
A-I am unaware of any “housing code” provision which requires a landlord to pay for the elimination of a bed-bug infestation.
Recent cases have characterized the condition as a possible breach of the “warranty of habitability” — Real Property Law § 235-b — a state law which mandates that all residential rental units be “fit for human habitation” and free of conditions “which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety.”
While bed bugs could trigger a violation of that law and may entitle the tenant, among other things, to a rent reduction or “abatement” during the time the infestation remains unabated, the problem in these cases is one of proof.
The “warranty of habitability” specifically provides that an owner is not legally obligated to correct conditions caused by the tenant or those persons who are under the tenant’s direction or control – like roommates or family members.
If the condition is truly a “building-wide” problem you would certainly have a stronger case. If the infestation is limited in scope, you will likely need some sort of expert analysis or other support to buttress your claim that you (and/or others who reside with you) did not introduce these pests to the unit and that this is exclusively a building-related condition.
Q-Despite a no pet clause in the lease for my rent stabilized apt, I have kept an 8lb chihuahua openly since 1/7/2006. My building was sold to AJ Clarke realty in June of 2007 and they are now evicting me. I have paperwork & photos dating back to nov 2006. Do I have a case? What is the success rate in this type of holdover case?
A-The New York City Pet Law – NYC Administrative Code § 27-2009.1(b) — provides that a landlord must file a case based on a violation of a “no pets” clause within 90 days of the landlord’s discovery of the violation or the objection to that animal’s existence is “waived.” (In other words, the animal gets to stay and the tenant may not be evicted on the basis that he or she is harboring a pet in violation of the lease.)
As far as this law is concerned, a new owner steps into a predecessor’s shoes and the clock would not begin anew. So, if the objection was “waived” by a prior owner’s inaction that waiver would continue in full force and effect (at least as far as that particular animal is concerned).
While success ratios are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to predict, it appears that you have a strong argument in favor of keeping the pet and avoiding eviction. (However, if you have not already done so, you would be well advised to speak to a lawyer who can review the evidence and better assess your options.)
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