Tenants' Rights and Responsibilities

In New York City, tenants have many rights relating to the safety and quality of their housing. Many of the requirements that landlords have to follow related to the physical quality of housing are part of the Housing Maintenance Code, which HPD enforces. However, there are also other City, State and Federal laws and agencies involved in regulating whether tenants can be required to leave an apartment, when and by how much rent can be raised, and how tenants can ensure that their rights are protected.

The ABCs of Housing

The ABC's of Housing is HPD's guide to housing rules and regulations for owners and tenants. It is important that tenants understand both their rights and responsibilities.

Rights and Responsibilities

Tenant Responsibilities

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.

Landlord Responsibilities

Owners and landlords 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, "Duties of owner," and New York State Multiple Dwelling Law.

Landlords 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. A landlord may not enter a tenant's apartment at any time. However, a landlord may enter at a reasonable time after providing appropriate notice if the entry is either to provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services, in accordance with the lease, and to show the apartment to prospective tenants or purchasers. A landlord can enter an apartment at any time in the case of an emergency.

Changing the 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 the resident is a resident of a rent stabilized hotel room who has made a request for a lease, a tenant or subtenant with a lease, an occupant who has lawfully lived in the apartment for more than thirty days (even if the person is not on the lease and has not made any direct payments to the landlord, or if 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 a lease, rent receipts, utility bills, mail address to you, and any documentation of previous harassment by the landlord.

Rent Control

In New York City where rent stabilization or rent control laws apply, the landlord may not charge more than the legal regulated rent. In general, buildings of a certain size, built before a certain date, are rent-regulated, but the specifics vary. Learn more from the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. You may also get a copy of the rent history for your apartment directly from New York State Housing and Community Renewal.

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.

Security Deposits

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.

Harassment

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. For more information, visit the Tenant Harassment page. 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.

Fair Housing

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.

Pets

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.


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.