Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

Note: The content on this web site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or opinion. The content of this web site may not reflect current legal developments. Since the law is constantly changing and since the law will vary based on different facts and circumstances, statements on this web site regarding the status of a given law or legal issue may not be current or applicable to your particular situation.

  1. What are my responsibilities as a tenant?
  2. What are the responsibilities of my landlord?
  3. My landlord refuses to make repairs to my apartment. What can I do?
  4. I have no heat or hot water in my apartment. What can I do?
  5. There is peeling paint in my apartment and I have a child under 6. How can I find out if there is lead-based paint and what is my landlord supposed to do?
  6. Can I request window guards from my landlord?
  7. Am I entitled to have my apartment painted?
  8. What are the rules about living in basements and cellars?
  9. Can my landlord enter my apartment at any time?
  10. My landlord has changed the locks on my apartment. Is the landlord allowed to change my locks?
  11. I received a notice from my landlord. What should I do?
  12. My Landlord raised my rent. I think it is too high. What can I do?
  13. Am I supposed to get my security deposit back?
  14. What should I do if my building owner is harassing me?
  15. Can a building owner discriminate against me?
  16. Can I have pets in my apartment?

1. What are my responsibilities as a tenant?
Tenants must comply with the provisions of the law and are responsible for violations caused by willful acts, gross negligence, and abuse. These as well as unreasonable refusal to allow access to the apartment by the owner or his or her agent or employee for the purpose of making repairs or improvements required by the Housing Maintenance Code and Multiple Dwelling Law may constitute grounds for eviction proceedings. Visit the following links to read the sections of the Housing Maintenance Code on "Duties of tenants" and "Tenant violations as grounds for eviction."
Tenants are also responsible to respond to owners on legally required notices, including the notice regarding lead-based paint and window guards.
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2. What are the responsibilities of my landlord?
Owners must ensure that buildings are safe, clean and well maintained, in both common areas and in individual apartments. Among other responsibilities, owners must provide and maintain security measures, heat, hot and cold water, and good lighting. Owners must register the property annually with HPD, if the building is rent-stabilized the owner must registered rents annually with the New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the owner must be in compliance with the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and New York State Multiple Dwelling Law.
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3. My landlord refuses to make repairs to my apartment. What can I do?
If you are a tenant in a privately-owned building, there are several things you can do to get your landlord to make repairs; however, you may want to take the following steps in order to establish a record:

  1. Contact the property owner, managing agent or building superintendent regarding the repairs.
  2. If the property owner, managing agent or superintendent does not respond, write a letter that describes the problems in your apartment and asks for the repairs to be made by a certain date. You should send the letter to the owner and management company by certified mail and keep a copy for your records. If you do not have address information for the property owner or managing agent, you can obtain this information on HPD’s website, as the property owner is required to file this information annually.
  3. If you do not receive a response to the letter, you should try to contact the owner in person or by phone. Let him or her know that if the repairs are not completed, you will have to file a complaint. Keep a record of all of your attempts to get the landlord to make repairs, as this will be useful in court.

If the owner still does not respond or fails to provide essential services, you may file a complaint.
You can also bring a case against the property owner in Housing Court to get an order to correct the conditions. This case is called an HP Action. HP actions are lawsuits brought by tenants or groups of tenants against landlords to force them to make repairs and provide essential services, like heat and hot water. A landlord's failure to make a repair or provide an important service may be a violation of the New York City Housing Maintenance Code or the Multiple Dwelling Law. In an HP action, a judge can order the landlord to correct the violations. If you want to start an HP proceeding against your landlord, go to the Clerk's Office at the Housing Court. You do not need a lawyer to start an HP case.
In addition to filing a complaint with HPD or filing an action in Housing Court, tenants in rent controlled or rent stabilized apartments may contact New York State Homes and Community Renewal to file a complaint. Call 718-739-6400 for information. HCR may impose penalties on building owners in the form of rent reductions if a tenant's problems are valid.
Tenants living in an HPD-owned building who have complaints about the maintenance of their apartment should call 212-491-4229 or 311 for assistance.
Tenants with maintenance complaints about apartments in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings should call the NYCHA Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771
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4. Am I entitled to have my apartment painted?
Yes, the landlord must paint occupied apartments in multiple dwellings (buildings with three or more apartments) every three years. (NYC Administrative Code §27-2013). Tenant occupied apartments in private dwellings are also required to be painted as necessary.
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5. Can my landlord enter my apartment at any time?
Generally no. However, a landlord may enter a tenant's apartment in some situations. For example, the landlord can enter your apartment:

  1. At a reasonable time after providing appropriate notice if the entry is either
    • To provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services, or
    • In accordance with the lease, or
    • To show the apartment to prospective tenants or purchasers; and
  2. In an emergency, at any time and without notice.

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6. My landlord has changed the locks on my apartment. Is the landlord allowed to change my locks?
Changing the locks on a resident's apartment without giving the resident a key is a violation of the Unlawful Eviction Law (NYC Administrative Code §26-521) if:

  1. The resident is:
    •  A resident of a rent stabilized hotel room who has made a request for a lease; and
    • A tenant or subtenant with a lease,
    • An occupant who has lawfully lived in the apartment for more than thirty days (with or without the lease),
    • A subtenant, roommate or relative who has lived in the apartment for at least thirty days (even if the person is not on the lease and has not made any direct payments to the landlord),
  2. The landlord does not have a warrant of eviction.

You can go to the nearest police station and report that you have been illegally locked out. You can also go to the Housing Court and start an "illegal lock out case" (Real Property Actions Proceedings Law §853). Before going to the court, you should contact Legal Aid or Legal Services to see if you qualify for free legal representation. If you are not eligible, you may want to contact a private attorney to assist you in starting the case. Even if you do not have an attorney, you can still go to Housing Court and speak to the Clerk about starting an illegal lock out case proceeding. When you go to Court, you should bring any papers or other items that you have which show that you are a resident of your apartment/building.
If you believe or suspect that you will be locked out of your apartment, you should be prepared with the necessary documentation to establish that you are the lawful occupant of the apartment. Therefore, you may want to leave copies of whatever papers you have which establish your occupancy with a friend or relative who does not live in the apartment. You also should take the documents with you whenever you leave your apartment so that you can establish to the Police Department and/or the Court that you are the lawful occupant. Documents that will be useful include, but are not limited to:

  1. A lease,
  2. Rent receipts,
  3. Utility bills or other bills directed to you with respect to your apartment (telephone, cable, etc.),
  4. Mail addressed to you or documents issued to you at your apartment (letters, voter registration card, driver's license, etc.),
  5. Any documentation of previous harassment by or conflict with the landlord.

If you, the tenant, change your locks, the law requires that you provide a copy of the key(s) to the landlord.
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7. My Landlord raised my rent. I think it is too high. What can I do?
If your apartment is subject to rent control or rent stabilization, the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) and the Rent Guidelines Board determine the amount that your landlord may increase your rent. If you don't know the status of your apartment, you can call HCR at (718) 739-6400. HCR can also answer any questions about whether the amount of the increase is too high.
If your apartment is not regulated, HCR does not regulate your rent. If you have a lease, the legal rent is what it states in the lease and can be raised only as permitted by the lease or at the expiration of the lease. If you do not have a lease, the landlord may raise your rent to whatever amount the landlord wishes, as long as the landlord tells you a month before the rent increase. If you do not pay the increase, the landlord may evict you if you received legally adequate notice of the increase.
If you live in public or subsidized housing, increases in the amount of rent you pay are subject to the regulations for that housing and are usually related to your family's income.
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8. Am I supposed to get my security deposit back?
Yes, at the end of your tenancy, you are entitled to get your security deposit back with interest. Before returning your deposit the landlord may check your apartment to determine if you caused any damage. If you did not cause damage to the apartment, except for normal wear, the landlord should return the full amount of your deposit with interest. If you did cause damage, the landlord is permitted to deduct the cost of repairing that damage before returning the balance of your security deposit to you.
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9. What should I do if my building owner is harassing me?
Building owners are prohibited by law from harassing tenants to force them out of their apartments. Examples of harassment include verbal or physical abuse, consistent withholding of services, or persistent physical or mental intimidation.
Any tenants (rent regulated or not rent regulated) who live in buildings with three or more units who believe they are being harassed may have grounds to initiate legal action in Housing Court against their building owners. Tenants may want to consult with and secure the services of an attorney before initiating any lawsuit. Tenants who cannot afford legal representation may be eligible for free or inexpensive legal assistance. Visit Fair Housing NYC for more information.
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10. Can a building owner discriminate against me?
By law, owners may not deny prospective tenants housing because of race, color, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, immigrant status, source of income, or legal occupation. Furthermore, tenants may not be denied housing because children may or will be residing with them. Visit Fair Housing NYC for more information.
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11. Can I have pets in my apartment?
Unless the pet can be considered a "service animal" used by blind, deaf or disabled people, whether pets are permitted is at the discretion of the building owner and is usually stipulated in the lease. If a tenant keeps a pet in the apartment without the building owner's permission, it may be considered a serious violation of the lease and may be a basis for terminating tenancy. In addition, many animals cannot be kept legally as pets in the City of New York. For more information on pet regulations, call 311.
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