Here’s a primer on what you should know about your rights as a tenant in a New York state rental home
There are two sides to every story, and a landlord/tenant dispute is no different. The landlord/tenant relationship can be easy—you pay your rent on time each month, the landlord takes care of your home maintenance, and everyone’s happy. But often, things can get complicated. Here’s a look at some landlord-tenant laws in New York and how they might affect your living situation.
It’s important to realize that state landlord-tenant laws are designed to protect both parties involved in a tenancy. Some states tend to favor the landlord and others put a stronger emphasis on tenants’ rights; in New York, the laws tend to be more landlord-friendly. Regardless, a New York landlord is required to ensure that rental property meets basic structural, health and safety standards.
New York Housing Stability and Tenant Protection
Act of 2019
New York passed a law in 2019 that would provide additional renter protections, including procedures for credit approval and changes to the eviction process.
Tenants’ rights for application and leasing
The law prohibits application fees and limits the cost of a credit check or background check to $20. The landlord is required to accept a background or credit check provided by the tenant if it is less than 30 days old. The landlord may not charge more than one month’s rent as a security deposit and is not permitted to charge the first and last month’s rent at the time of occupancy.
A landlord may not deny an applicant because the tenant had a previous eviction action or foreclosure. An eviction judgment could affect your credit score and an applicant can be denied for bad credit.
A tenant is also entitled to inspect the property once the lease is signed but before they move in. You may note existing defects or damages, and provide details about the property condition. If the landlord refuses to return your security deposit at the end of your lease, you can use this as evidence if you need to go to small claims court.
Tenant safety and personal injury laws
Under the New York State General Obligations Law § 5-321:
A lease may not exempt a landlord from liability for injuries to a person or property caused by the landlord’s negligence, or the negligence of their employees or agents. In other words, you can’t be required to sign a contract that removes your right to sue your landlord for a personal injury that happens on the property.
The lease also may not waive the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any personal injury or property damage trial (Real Property Law § 259-c) or waive the Warranty of Habitability (Real Property Law § 235-b).
The Warranty of Habitability provides tenants the right to a livable, safe and sanitary living space. The landlord is required to ensure that the home is equipped with heat and hot water, and keep it free from unsafe conditions like infestations of insects or rodents, mold, lead paint and other hazards. This includes public areas of the building or property.
However, the tenant also has a responsibility not to cause an uninhabitable condition. If a condition is caused by the tenant, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to provide a remedy.
Landlord’s duty of repair
The landlord must maintain “good repair” of tenant living spaces. This includes being clean and free of vermin or garbage. The landlord must also maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilation systems. This also applies to any appliances installed by the landlord (for example, a refrigerator, stove or dishwasher) and the landlord is responsible for ensuring that any repairs are made within a reasonable amount of time.
New York lead-based paint laws
Lead poisoning is a serious condition that can happen to children who live in older homes contaminated by lead paint. Limits on lead levels in paint were established in the 1970s nationwide but older residences can still have lead-based paint remaining from before those restrictions became law.
Federal law requires that a landlord must disclose information about lead-based paint hazards before a tenant signs a lease. The landlord is also required to remove or cover any walls or areas of peeling paint, friction or impact that could expose lead or generate lead dust. New York City, Rochester and Buffalo each have additional laws and ordinances related to lead paint.
New York landlord safety obligations
A New York state landlord is required to follow certain laws to protect tenant safety. These include:
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
A smoke detector must be in each apartment, within 10 feet of each bedroom. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to test smoke detectors regularly. The landlord is obligated to repair or replace a malfunctioning smoke detector device within the first year but the tenants must replace batteries on their own.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can cause severe brain injury or death. Every landlord is required to install an approved carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of the entrance to any bedroom in a rental unit in a multiple dwelling. The tenant is responsible for maintenance of the carbon monoxide detector, and combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are permitted.
Crime and personal safety
A landlord must take “minimal precautions” to protect residents against reasonably foreseeable personal injury from a crime. In other words, the landlord can’t be responsible for an intruder’s behavior, but they can be responsible for making sure that building entrances are properly maintained (i.e. locks are working, security measures are functioning correctly, etc.).
A multiple dwelling built after 1968 must have automatic self-closing and -locking doors at all entrances and kept locked unless there is an attendant on duty. If there are eight or more apartments, there must be a two-way intercom system so that tenants can remotely unlock the door for a guest.
Stairways, parking lots and yards must have sufficient lighting and be free from hazards. In New York City, a self-service elevator in a multiple dwelling must have a mirror so that the tenant can see if there’s another person in the elevator before entering.
New York City landlords are also required to provide window guards to any tenant who has a child under age 10. The tenant is required to notify the landlord if there is a child living in the apartment or if they provide childcare services to non-resident children.
New York premises liability laws
Premises liability is the area of personal injury law that’s related to an injury that happens because of a property hazard. This could be any property—a retail store, parking lot, public street, homeowner’s backyard—anywhere.
In general, the person or entity that owns and maintains the property is responsible for ensuring that the area is free from hazards that could foreseeably cause injury to someone who is legally permitted to be there.
If you’re injured because of a property hazard (for example, a broken sidewalk, exposure illness from a toxic condition, falling tree branch, etc.), you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner if the condition was the result of their negligence in maintaining safety.
You could recover damages that include costs for your medical treatment and lost wages during your injury.
Where do I look for help with a rental home issue or injury?
There are different types of lawyers for different types of issues. If you have a landlord/tenant dispute like a landlord who isn’t properly maintaining the premises, has violated laws regarding your application or lease, or similar, you should seek the guidance of a landlord-tenant attorney.
If you’ve been injured in an accident or as a result of a condition on the property, you should look for a New York personal injury lawyer.