Statutory Rights of Residential Tenants in New York

Abbreviations used in this fact sheet:

T= residential tenant
LL= residential landlord

“NOTE: In view of many recent changes in the law, we are in the process of updating this fact sheet, so parts of it are no longer accurate.  Until it is updated, if you have any questions you should call our hotline or consult other resources.”   

Statutes referred to in this fact sheet include:

Right To Livable Premises

1.  Warranty of Habitability

Real Property Law § 235-b

LL in every written or oral residential lease warrants that the premises and common areas are and will be maintained in a condition that is (a) fit for human habitation (b) fit for uses reasonably intended by the parties (c) free from conditions endangering or detrimental to life, health, or safety of occupants. T cannot waive or modify this right. T can prove damages for breach without expert testimony. Damages caused by strike are only recoverable in the amount of the LL’s saving, unless strike caused by LL.

2.  Right to Repairs and Clean Premises

Multiple Residence Law § 174

Multiple Dwelling Law §§ 78, 80

LL shall keep all and every part of a multiple dwelling (three or more residential units) and the lot it is on in good repair, clean and free from vermin, rodents, dirt, filth, garbage or other matter dangerous to life or health. T also liable if T or T’s guests willfully or negligently cause violation.

3.  Right to Hot Water

Multiple Dwelling Law § 75

Where hot water is supplied by LL, hot water must be supplied 24 hours a day, year around, unless LL can prove that building was erected prior to April 18, 1929 and hot water was not furnished or required at time of construction.

4.  Right to Heat or Heating Equipment/Facilities

Multiple Dwelling Law § 79; Multiple Residence Law § 173

Where heat or heating equipment is supplied, such shall be sufficient to maintain, and shall maintain, indoor temperature of 68°F when outdoor is below 55°F between hours of 6am and 10pm, and indoor temperature of at least 55°F between hours of 10pm and 6am when outdoor is below 40°F, all during the months from 10-1 through 5-31.

5.  Right to Stay Nonpayment Proceedings Upon Failure to Make Repairs

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 755

If LL is ordered to remove violation or make repairs by government agency and court believes cited conditions either constructively evict T from portion of premises or are likely to endanger life, health, or safety, court may stay nonpayment proceeding if T deposits rent in court. Court has discretion to release deposited rent to effect necessary repairs if T shows LL not doing so.

6.  Right of Department of Social Services to Withhold Rent and Tenant’s Defense in Nonpayment Proceeding

Social Services Law § 143-b

Department of Social Services has right to withhold rent allowance where violations exist which are dangerous or detrimental to life or health. T has defense in nonpayment proceeding and LL not entitled to possession or money judgment for any period during which violations existed if such violations were reported to DSS by housing department. LL has burden to prove violations corrected. DSS not prevented from issuing withheld rent upon proof violations corrected.

7.  Right to Rent Abatement Where Serious Violations Exist

Multiple Dwelling Law § 302-a (in NYC); Multiple Residence Law § 305-a (outside NYC)

If a rent impairing violation (condition designated by state building code council or local codes which constitutes fire hazard or serious threat to T’s life, health or safety) remains uncorrected for six months after multiple dwelling cited for such violation, LL is not entitled to rent for any period after the six months that the violation continues. If LL brings a nonpayment proceeding, T must deposit rent in court and upon proving above, T is entitled to return of deposited rent. If T raises defense in bad faith, caused violation or refused LL access to correct violation, court may award LL up to $100 for costs and attorney’s fees.

8.  Right to Smoke Detector

Multiple Dwelling Law § 68; Multiple Residence Law § 15

All multiple dwellings, whenever constructed, shall have in each unit (or in hotels and SROs, in each room for sleeping), functioning smoke detector that meets fire code requirements and that T can check for operation. Once T occupies a unit, care and maintenance of smoke detector becomes T’s responsibility, including replacement, except where detector becomes inoperable within one year after installation due to no fault of T.

Right To Complain And Organize

9.  Right to Be Protected Against Retaliatory Eviction

Real Property Law § 223-b

LL of residential premises (unless owner-occupied with less than four units) shall not (a) serve a notice to quit, (b) commence an eviction proceeding, or (c) substantially alter terms of tenancy (includes refusal to renew lease or offer new lease, but if T wins, LL need only offer 1-year renewal or new lease) in retaliation for (a) T’s good faith complaint to governmental authorities regarding LL’s violations of health or safety law, (b) T’s actions to secure or enforce rights under lease, rental agreement, warranty of habitability, or other state or federal laws regulating residential premises, (c) T’s participation in tenant’s organization.

Retaliatory eviction is an affirmative defense to eviction proceeding (except for nonpayment of rent) if court finds LL acted in retaliation for the specified T activities and further finds that LL would not otherwise have sought eviction. If LL sues T within six months of T’s official complaint or suit, there is rebuttable presumption that LL is retaliating and LL has burden of providing credible explanation of non- retaliatory motive. T can sue LL for damages, but no presumption applies.

10.  Right to Form, Join, or Participate in Tenant’s Group

Real Property Law § 230

LL cannot interfere with the right to T to form, join, or participate in any group formed to protect rights of tenants, nor harass or punish T or withhold any right from T for exercising this right. T’s group has right to meet on premises in areas devoted to common use.

Right To Possession

11.  Right to Gain Possession at Beginning of Tenancy

Real Property Law § 223-a

Absent express provision to the contrary, LL promises to deliver possession at the beginning of tenancy. If LL does not, T has the option to rescind lease and recover money paid to LL.

12.  Right to Quiet Enjoyment

Real Property Law § 235

LL or his agent cannot willfully and intentionally interfere with T’s “quiet enjoyment” (i.e., peaceful possession) of premises. Penalty: criminal violation.

13.  Right of Illegally Locked-out Tenant to Bring Proceeding to Regain Possession

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law §§ 713 (10), 721 (4)

A summary proceeding to recover possession of real property may be brought if LL enters premises or remains in possession by force or by unlawful means. The proceeding may be brought by the person forcibly or unlawfully put out or kept out, by approved tenant associations, and by not-for- profit corporations.

14.  Possible Right to Triple Damages for Landlord’s Lockout

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 853

If T is ejected or put out in a forcible manner or after T put out is kept out by force, T may be able to recover treble damages from LL.

15.  Right of Monthly Tenant to Timely and Adequate Notice Terminating Tenancy

Real Property Law § 232-a (in NYC); 232-b (outside NYC)

NYC: Written notice of termination 30 days before expiration of term, to be served on T in the manner prescribed for service of a Notice of Petition commencing a summary eviction proceeding.

OUTSIDE NYC: Notice of termination one month before expiration of term. (Note: LL’s acceptance of rent for period after termination and prior to commencement of hold-over summary proceeding voids termination notice.)

16.  Right to Avoid Eviction in Nonpayment Proceeding

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 751(1)

T in a nonpayment proceeding, at any time before a warrant of eviction is issued, may stay the issuance of a warrant of eviction by depositing the rent due and the costs of the proceeding in court. (This is an absolute right.)

Right To Receive Services

17.  Right to Continuation of Services Provided Under Rental Agreement

Real Property Law § 235

LL cannot willfully or intentionally fail to provide services required, expressed or implied, in the rental agreement (e.g., hot or cold water, heat, lights, elevator, etc.). Penalty: criminal violation.

18.  Right to Pay Utility Company and Deduct from Rent

Real Property Law § 235-a; Public Service Law § 116

In a multiple dwelling, where LL is required to furnish utilities but is not paying bills, T can pay utility company pursuant to Public Service Law § 116. Such payments are deductible from future rent payments. LL of a multiple dwelling who is responsible for payment of gas, electric, water services and whose failure to pay causes discontinuance of such service is liable for compensatory and punitive damages.

19.  Right to Stay Nonpayment Proceeding Upon Failure to Provide Utilities

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law § 756

Where LL is responsible for providing utilities which are discontinued because of failure to pay, T is entitled to stay of nonpayment proceeding until LL pays the amount owing for utilities and until such utility services are restored.

20.  Right to Contract and Pay for Heating Oil Delivery and Deduct from Rent

Multiple Dwelling Law § 302-c (in NYC); Multiple Residence Law § 305-c (outside NYC)

T in a multiple dwelling, where LL furnishes heating oil and there is lack of heat due to LL’s failure to have oil supplied, may contract and pay for oil delivery and deduct such payments from rent. T must make reasonable effort to contact LL regarding failure to supply and have usual oil supplier deliver if LL posts supplier’s name on premises or, if not, secure oil from supplier regularly engaged in such business. T’s remedy under section not exclusive and T may also pursue other remedies or claims for LL’s failure to provide heat.

Rights To Transfer Rights Or Obligations

21.  Right to Assign or Sublease

Real Property Law § 226-b

In a dwelling of four or more residential units, T may not assign lease without consent of LL, who may unconditionally refuse, but then must release T from lease if so requested. T has right to sublet subject to consent of LL who cannot unreasonably refuse. If LL unreasonably refuses, T can sublet. If LL consents original T still liable to LL for lease obligations.

Rights Limiting Continuation Of Tenant’s Liability

22.  Right to Surrender Premises

Real Property Law § 227

Absent express written agreement to contrary, T has the right to surrender possession if premises destroyed or become untenable and unfit for occupancy without any fault of T.

23.  Right to Notice of Automatic Lease Renewal

General Obligations Law § 5-905

Lease provision that lease is automatically renewed unless T gives notice to LL of intention to vacate is not enforceable unless LL gives T written notice, served personally or by registered or certified mail at least 15 days and not more that 30 days prior to the time T must notify LL of intention to vacate.

24.  Holdover Without Creation of a New Term

Real Property Law § 232-c

If a T whose term is longer that one month holds over, LL does not have automatic right to hold T for a new term. If LL accepts rent, absent contrary express or implied agreement, T is deemed a month-to-month tenant.

Rights Limiting Landlord’s Advantage

25.  Right to Exemption of Personal Property to Secure Rent

Real Property Law § 231 (4), Civil Practice Law and Rules § 5205

A residential lease provision that pledges, as security for the payment of rent, personal property legally exempted from seizure to satisfy a money judgment (as provided by CPLR 5205), is void and unenforceable.

26.  Rights Regarding Security Deposit

General Obligations Law §§ 7-103, 7-105

Security deposit is property of T until LL applies it for T breach of lease. LL cannot commingle deposit with personal funds. If LL deposits it in bank, he must advise T in writing of name and location of bank, which must have a place of business within the state, and if deposit is in interest-bearing account T is entitled to interest minus 1% that LL can retain for administration expenses. If building has six or more units, LL must deposit it in interest-bearing account. T cannot waive security deposit rights. Within five days of LL’s sale of building, assignment of lease, or appointment of receiver, LL must turn over deposit to successor in interest and advise T by registered or certified mail of this action and name and address of successor. Failure to comply with requirements on transfer of LL’s interest is a misdemeanor.

27.  Right to Hold a Landlord Liable for Negligence

General Obligations Law § 5-321

LL cannot exempt himself, his agents or employees from liability for injuries to person or property caused by or resulting from negligence in the operation or maintenance of the premises. Any agreement to do so is void and unenforceable.

28.  Right to Jury Trial of Personal Injury or Property Damage Claims

Real Property Law § 259-c

A lease provision waiving right to jury trial in any action or counterclaim for personal injury or property damage brought by LL or T is void and unenforceable.

29.  Right to Additional Occupants (“Roommate Law”)

Real Property Law § 235-f

LL cannot restrict occupancy to T and members of T’s immediate family. Where not prohibited by federal, state, or local law, T can cohabit with family members, another occupant and that occupant’s dependent children.

30.  Right Against Discrimination by Landlord or Agent

Executive Law § 296(5)(a)

LL (unless one or two units and LL or LL’s family occupy) engages in unlawful discriminatory practice by refusing to rent or discriminating in rental conditions, provision of services or facilities because of, or by advertising or inquiring as to, T’s race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability or marital status. Buildings or mobile home parks for persons older than 55 are exempt.

31.  Right to Nondiscriminatory Rental Agreement

General Obligations Law § 5-331

Restrictions in contracts, leases, agreements affecting real property which in any way provide against the sale, gift, transfer, assignment, lease, rental, use or occupancy of real property to any person because of race, creed, color, national origin, or ancestry are void.

32.  Right to Nondiscrimination for Tenants With Children

Real Property Law §§ 236, 237.

LL who refuses to rent any or part of any residential premises solely on ground prospective T has children is subject to criminal and civil liability and injunction. (Exceptions: federally-subsidized senior citizen housing; owner-occupied one- or two-family dwellings; trailer parks for persons 55 or over.) Any LL whose lease provides that during lease term T shall not bear children is guilty of a violation.

33.  Right to Energy Information (“Truth-in-Heating”)

Energy Law § 17-103

Where T will be responsible for paying own heating and/or cooling bills, effective 1-1-81, LL, upon prospective T’s request, must provide free of charge complete set or summary of such bills for preceding two years and must indicate whether premises occupied during that time. Maximum penalty for LL’s failure to provide $100. T cannot use LL’s failure to avoid any lease obligations. Prior Ts’ names can only be given with consent, and only information concerning bill amounts and fuel usage can be given by vendor; no consumer credit information can be divulged.

34.  Right Against Enforcement of “Unconscionable” Lease Clauses

Real Property Law § 235-c

A court that finds that a lease or lease clause was unconscionable when made may refuse to enforce the lease, enforce the lease without the unconscionable clause, or limit the clause to avoid unconscionable result.

35.  Right to Plain Language Lease

General Obligations Law § 5-702

All written leases after 11-1-78 shall be written in clear, coherent manner using common words with everyday meaning. Violations do not render agreements void or voidable, or create defenses to enforcement or breaches. Violations are punishable by fines equal to actual damages plus $50. Class action penalty shall not exceed $10,000.

36.  Reciprocal Right to Recover Attorneys’ Fees

Real Property Law § 234

If residential lease provides that LL may recover attorneys’ fees and/or expenses incurred for any action or proceeding arising out of lease, T entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and/or expenses if T successfully defends or prosecutes any action arising out of lease.