13 New York Renters’ Rights You Should Know

A 2015 study found that New York City is the most expensive city in the world to rent a property in. You read that right – in the WORLD. Since New Yorkers (of both the city and the state) don’t have time to sift through all the complicated legal jargon that make up rental rights documents, we identified and broke down the most important parts for you.

Can I share my apartment?
Generally speaking, yes — have it your way, but don’t get crazy. If it’s just you on the lease, you can let your immediate family plus one additional person and their dependent kids move in. But keep in mind landlords can limit the total number of people who live in the apartment.

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Wait, what is this about painting apartments every three years?
Technically the landlord is required to paint every three years. But this is really so that the tenant isn’t charged to repaint after he or she has been there for a number of years. For example, if you have been in your place for two years, and it needs to be repainted, you would pay 1/3 of the cost.

Did I get denied because I am gay (or African-American, Trans, Muslim…)?
In addition to being morally wrong, it’s totally illegal in the U.S. to deny someone housing based on their race, religion, ethnic background or national origin, sex, familial status (such as having children under age 18), or physical or mental disability. The State of New York goes a step further by adding sexual orientation to that list — and the City of New York protects renters based on gender identity.

That being said, just because you were denied a place to live doesn’t mean it was discrimination. There are several other totally valid reasons you could have been denied, such as a bad credit history or negative references from previous landlords. If you think you were discriminated against, contact the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office at 212-416-8250 or [email protected].

Can a landlord just change the locks?
Unless he or she happens to also be your angry ex, you should never experience this much drama with your landlord. But if you do, it is an illegal eviction, unless they have a warrant and you don’t have a lease and you haven’t been living in the place for more than 30 days … or if they give you the new key!

If you find yourself illegally locked out you should file a police report. (And consider looking for a new place to live.)

How much can a landlord charge for a late rent payment?
In New York State, landlords can charge a late “fee” for tardy rent payments, but they cannot impose a “penalty.” What’s the difference? Basically, the fee should be proportionate to the harm done by the money being late. For example, NY courts have not allowed a $50 fee on a late rent payment of $405 because it. Also, if you are paying $405 a month in rent, please tell us your secret.

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How much can a landlord charge for a bounced check?
Landlords can charge renters up to $20 for a bounced check if it is specified in the lease. But seriously, why are you still writing checks? Renters can now pay their rent online with Pay with RadPad, and we’ll send your landlord that check they love so much.

When can a landlord enter a rental property, and how much notice do they need to give?
Check your lease for your exact agreement. In New York City, a landlord may only enter a tenant’s apartment for emergency repairs, non-emergency repairs or improvements, and inspections. Emergency repairs require no advance notice to enter. Non-emergency repairs and improvements require at least a week’s written notice, and access for an inspection requires a minimum of 24 hours written notice.

What’s the deal with landlords paying interest on security deposits?
You have probably heard something about landlords having to pay interest on security deposits, and it’s true—but not that exciting. Landlords of six or more un-regulated units are required to keep your deposit in an interest bearing account, separate from their money, and let you know where it is. They can take 1% per year as an administrative fee, and the tenant gets what is left. And that is only if there are no deductions for damage or missing rent.

So, if your $1,000 deposit is earning 2% annually, that would be $20, of which you would get $10 and the landlord $10. Don’t spend it all in one place!

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How do I find out if a unit is rent-controlled or rent-stabilized?
New York State has three categories of rental units: rent-controlled, rent-stabilized, and “unregulated.”

In order to be rent-controlled, the unit must be in a building built before February 1947 in New York City and parts of Albany, Erie, Nassau, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Westchester counties. The tenant must have been living in the unit since before July 1, 1971. Less than 2% of New York City’s apartments were still rent-controlled in 2008. An easy rule of thumb: if you have signed a new lease since 1971, you aren’t rent-controlled.

There are more rent-stabilized apartments in NYC than non-regulated, but hard to find because people hate to leave them! They are typically in buildings with more than 5 units and built before 1974. The unit must have been priced less than $2,000 in 2011 or $2,500 today. The landlord can raise the rent 1% each year (2.75% for a two-year lease), and once the monthly rent reaches $2,500, the unit is no longer rent-stabilized. Oh, and if the tenant’s income exceeds $200,000 annually for two consecutive years, the landlord can deregulate the unit and raise the rent to market price.

To find out if an apartment is “regulated” (either rent-controlled or -stabilized) contact the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. They can also help out with questions or issues that arise.

When does a landlord need to return a security deposit?
Under New York law, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within a “reasonable” time after the tenant has returned the keys, packed up and moved out. Typically, “reasonable” = a window of 21 to 45 days.

When can a tenant legally break a lease?
A lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant for a set period of time. That being said, there are a few situations that could allow a renter to leave before his or her lease is up, and these are:

  • If the renter or their child is the victim of domestic violence.
  • The renter or his/her spouse is 62 years old or older and moving into a home for seniors.
  • The renter is starting active military duty. (Thank you for your service.)
  • The unit is unsafe or violates New York Health and Safety Codes

If a tenant breaks his or her lease and it’s not legally justified, the landlord is still expected to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant. In some other states, the former tenant is simply responsible to pay out the remainder of the lease. This isn’t the case in New York.

How much notice does a landlord need to give a tenant before increasing the rent?
Check the lease! If the apartment is not regulated and your lease is coming to an end, the landlord isn’t required to contact you at all. You would simply move out on the specified date if no new lease were signed. The landlord can set the terms of a new lease.

If the tenant is on a month-to-month lease, the landlord needs the tenant’s written consent to increase the rent. If he or she refuses, the landlord may end the lease with appropriate notice.

The lease is your friend. Seriously.
Whether you are the renter or the landlord, your lease is everything. It makes everything clear and simple, and removes the guesswork as things come up. You can spell out things like the amount of your rent and how, when and where it’s paid, as well as the consequences for late payment. Read through a lease before you sign it. Cross out anything irrelevant (like a standard line referring to a pool when there isn’t one) and initial it. Let the prospective landlord know you’ve done that. Ask to make changes to anything you think is unreasonable. This is the time to sort these things out — no surprises later!


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