This page contains information and links to help tenants and owners with legal assistance, mediation services, as well as tenant’s rights and owner responsibilities.
Legal Assistance Resources
- The NYC Dept. of Homeless Services (DHS) has information for tenants at-risk of being evicted from their apartment in both their Rent Issues and Rental Assistance sections of their website.
- DHS also offers information for adults and families seeking shelter, as well as information for people needing housing due to issues such as domestic violence. DHS also runs the Homebase program, which offers an extensive network of neighborhood-based services.
- LawHelp NY is a web site with links to free and affordable legal aid and information about your legal rights, courts, and more in New York and elsewhere.
- NYC's Human Resources Administration offers a "One Shot Deal" emergency assistance program that helps people who cannot meet an expense due to an unexpected situation or event.
- Coalition for the Homeless offers assistance for those being evicted; fleeing domestic violence; needing shelter (or dealing with problems in a shelter); and related issues.
To Find a Lawyer
- NYC's Human Resources Administration funds free legal representation for tenants facing eviction; harassment by landlords; and immigration legal issues.
- If you are low-income and/or cannot afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for free legal services (a free attorney). Organizations that offer help include:
- If you need a referral to a lawyer and you are not eligible for free legal services, contact the New York City Bar Association Legal Referral Service at (212) 626-7373. The NYC Bar Association Legal Referral Service offers a lawyer or paralegal who will answer the phone and help you find an appropriate way to handle your legal problem.
They also offer free legal advice one evening a week on specific issues, including landlord-tenant matters, as well as a free advice hotline for low-income NYC residents. The number is (212) 626-7383.
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Tenant’s Rights Guide
The NYS Attorney General offers a tenant’s rights guide with information on a wide range of housing issues for both rent stabilized and unregulated housing.
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The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development offers a guide useful to both owners and tenants with information on the responsibilities of owners of rental housing in NYC.
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Various organizations offer information to help tenants and owners file for, or prepare for, housing court. See the links below for more information.
- New York City Bar
- NYC Housing Court offers a Volunteer Lawyers Program for Unrepresented Litigants. If you are not represented by an attorney and you need legal advice about a residential landlord-tenant law matter, the Housing Court’s Volunteer Lawyers Program may be of help.
- New York Civil Court offers services through their Help Center, with information online and in person at locations throughout the City.
- Housing Court Answers (formerly City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court) has information tables in most Housing Courts, or you can call them weekdays from 2-5pm at (212) 962-4795 or the Metropolitan Council on Housing at (212) 979-0611. Also, in some of the Housing Courts there is a Resource Center where you can view a video about Housing Court procedures and get written information and forms.
- Information about eviction and the role of city marshals may be found in the NYC Department of Investigation Marshal Evictions FAQ.
Small Claims Court
The Civil Court of the City of New York has jurisdiction over civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000 and other civil matters referred to it by the Supreme Court. It includes a small claims part for informal dispositions of matters not exceeding $5,000 and a landlord and tenant/housing part for landlord-tenant matters of unlimited amounts and housing code violations. Information on Small Claims Court can be found on their website or in a guide that they produce.
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The Rent Guidelines Board receives many emails and calls about tenant-landlord disputes. Sometimes, tenants and landlords are too quick to file a complaint with a government agency or sue in court before trying to work with the other party. This can be unproductive for both sides. One solution to tenant-landlord disputes is mediation.
If you have a problem with your apartment, keep the following things in mind:
- Understand the law - Don't automatically assume that the other party is at fault. As a tenant, you need to be aware of your responsibilities under the law; also keep in mind that landlords are only required to provide the services explicitly stated in your lease and under the housing laws. If your apartment is rent stabilized, you have additional rights and responsibilities.
- Communication is important - Make sure that your landlord knows about the problem and its level of severity. Remember, owners of rental buildings may have employees who fail to deliver messages and superintendents who may shirk their responsibilities. The landlord (or his/her managing agent) must know exactly what the problem is, how serious it is, and how it should be addressed.
- Proceed slowly - If your landlord or managing agent is not responsive, the best policy is to slowly escalate the level of your complaints. Don't rush to file a complaint or a lawsuit. For a good example of this policy, see Broker Info.
- Try to solve the problem before filing a formal complaint - Before you file a complaint with a government agency or go to court, try to work things out with your landlord, or if this is impossible, try to find another route such as mediation. Legal solutions can be quite complicated, time-consuming, and potentially very expensive. One way of getting what you want and avoiding the hassles of Housing Court is mediation, where a neutral third party hears both sides of a disagreement and helps develop solutions that meet everybody's needs. The following Community Mediation Centers provide free mediation services:
- Manhattan and Brooklyn’s New York Peace Institute
- Bronx’s Institute for Mediation & Conflict Resolution
- Queens’ Community Mediation Services
- Staten Island’s New York Center for Interpersonal Development
Remember, government agencies are often understaffed and overwhelmed by their caseloads; courts and lawyers can also be very expensive and time-consuming. Filing a complaint may not be the quickest or most satisfactory way to resolve your problem. Of course, if you have made reasonable efforts to resolve your problem and no progress has been made, complaints to an administrative agency or court proceedings may be necessary. Although inconvenient and time consuming, the law does ultimately resolve landlord/tenant disputes.
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Detailed information can be found in our Security Deposits FAQ.
In summary, the landlord must return the security deposit, less any lawful deduction, to the tenant at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. A landlord may use the security deposit: (a) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the tenant damages the apartment; or (b) as reimbursement for any unpaid rent.
Usually, a 'reasonable' amount of time is in the neighborhood of 30-60 days; however, the definition of 'reasonable' is not up to you or us to decide.
Ultimately, the return of your deposit would be decided by the Attorney General's Office or a Small Claims Court judge. If you feel you have exhausted attempts to get your deposit returned through your former landlord, you may wish to contact the New York State Attorney General's Office at (212) 416-8300 or fill out their security deposit claim form (in English), or Spanish.
You may also choose to file a claim in Small Claims Court. For more information on Small Claims Court in New York City, consult the Small Claims Court section of this page.
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