When managing tenants, all U.S. landlords must follow the rules specific to their state. Each state lays out laws regarding such things as the handling of security deposits or the process of evicting a tenant that must be adhered to. In addition, federal laws also affect landlords and must be well understood and followed to remain compliant. Rent-controlled properties in New York can also be subject to further restrictions.
There’s a lot to learn to ensure that you manage your NY tenants compliantly – failure to do so can result in lengthy, costly disputes with aggrieved tenants, and significant financial penalties can apply. As well as efficiently managing the day-to-day running of your rental property business (property management software can help greatly with this), it’s essential that you have comprehensive knowledge of your legal responsibilities.
Here is a guide for landlords managing tenants in New York City.
Warranty of habitability
Every state (excluding Arkansas) upholds a law called the implied ‘warranty of habitability.’ Landlords in New York are legally required to maintain liveable rental premises for the tenants.
NYC tenants have the right to live in a clean, safe apartment – a right that automatically forms part of any lease agreement, whether or not it is included in the written contract.
Complying with the warranty of habitability includes taking care of important repairs and maintenance issues in a timely and satisfactory manner. Examples include maintaining the good working order of heating systems, addressing mold issues and pest infestations, and repairing broken tiles or door locks. Tenants have the right to withhold rent payments if the property is deemed inhabitable under this law, so it’s vital to understand and comply with it.
Legally drawn-up agreements
Rental/lease agreements set out the legally contractual basis agreed upon between you and your tenant. While there are laws (such as the warranty of habitability) that supersede the contents of a rent agreement, it is still an important document that outlines many contractual conditions.
The more comprehensively you prepare your rental agreements, the fewer issues should arise. As a landlord, you are free to go above and beyond any legally required rental agreement inclusions, but be sure not to attempt to override any legal responsibilities – for example, some landlords try to include a waiver regarding the upkeep of a habitable environment, which can lead to serious issues and penalties.
Understanding the fair housing laws that govern your conduct as a landlord should be the first thing you do before you even post an advertisement for a vacancy.
It is essential to understand these laws and what you can and can’t say or do when it comes to your tenants and applicants. For example, while NY landlords have the right to reject applicants on the basis of bad references or credit history, for example, they are not permitted to make decisions based on race, religion, gender, or any other discriminatory factor. New York state laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of an individual’s marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Failure to adhere to these laws can result in damaging and costly lawsuits. For more information regarding fair housing laws, you can visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) site.
State rent rules
Bad-paying tenants are a tricky issue for landlords to deal with. When faced with the prospect of having to evict a tenant who isn’t paying their rent, it’s essential to follow the legally outlined process.
There are a variety of rent rules outlined for NY landlords to follow, such as how much to charge, how (and by how) much) rent can be increased, and handling late fees.
New York rental properties are also governed under rent stabilization rules, limiting the amount of rent that can be charged, as well as outlining other tenant protections. It’s vital that NY landlords check to see if their rental properties are affected by these rules, and act accordingly.
The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s Office of Rent Administration and the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) are key resources for NY landlords.
State security deposit rules
The handling of security deposits is one of the biggest causes of tenant-landlord disputes.
In New York, landlords must not request a security deposit exceeding the equivalent of one month’s rent (exclusions apply). Additionally, as is the case with most other states, the entire deposit must be refunded to the tenant upon vacating the premises, except for any lawfully retained amount relating to reasonable (and itemized) costs incurred. These costs can include rent arrears, damage repairs, etc. For further information, visit The New York State Senate website.
Legally required disclosures
New York landlords are required by law to make certain disclosures to their tenants. Examples include how they will manage the security deposit, any existing damage present on the property, and whether there are any environmental hazards, such as lead-based paint or mold, present at the property.
Failure to comply with these disclosure laws can result in significant financial penalties.
In almost all states – including New York – it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against their tenants in response to them acting within their legal rights. A prime example would be if a landlord increased the rent on a tenant who filed a complaint with a governmental agency regarding unsafe living conditions. Landlords must always handle issues in a timely, respectful manner, and maintain records of all communication to demonstrate their lawful behavior.
Tenancy termination and eviction laws
To avoid unnecessary delays, complications, or penalties, it is essential that any tenancy terminations and evictions carefully follow the laws that govern them.
In New York, the only way to lawfully evict a tenant is via a court proceeding that results in a judgment of possession being obtained by the court. Landlords must not evict a tenant by use of any unlawful means, including force. Once a judgment of possession is obtained, a sheriff, marshall, or constable is then permitted to carry out the eviction on behalf of the landlord. For more information, visit New York City Civil Court.
Follow the law
The bottom line for landlords in any state is to commit to understanding the laws that govern them in their particular state – as well as the federal laws that apply to all – and follow them to the letter. If you are a New York landlord who is unsure of their legal rights and obligations, consult with an expert NY attorney.