With the current international COVID-19 crisis impacting everyone financially, legally, geographically, and domestically it’s important to know your rights. One of those areas for many will be around renting, and what you can and cannot do with your lease if you want to change something (or if someone else does). So here are the essentials!

The first thing you should know about renting in NYC is that the law, in general, sides with the tenant and not the landlord. You have a lot of protections available to you to ensure that getting an apartment, living in an apartment, and getting out of an apartment is as safe as possible.

Contracted Terms

However, you can contract in and out of almost anything, and therefore, as I’ve talked about before, it’s important that you read and understand contracts comprehensively from top to bottom.

So if you have something written in your contract, and you read and signed that contract, those are the terms you’re stuck with. Even if everything in your bones leads you to believe that your landlord is a good person and they would, of course, see your way if something happened, it’s important that you get that in writing.

When push comes to shove, that piece of paper is what everyone will fall back to.

Safe, well-maintained buildings that are free from pests, leaks, and hazardous conditions.

Despite being able to contract in and out of all sorts of things, one thing you don’t have to worry about is the core essentials of an apartment.

Your health, your heat, your hot water, your plumbing, your floors, your walls, your ceiling, your paint, your (lack-of) mold, your safety measures (smoke detectors and window guards), are all guaranteed.

If you do have a pest issue or any other issue which is fundamental to the apartment, you have a right to request your landlord fix it (at their cost). You are legally required to have hot water 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and your heat must be on during the winter months (October 1 through May 31).

There are different types of housing code violations that impact how quickly they have to be fixed, and that can be really simply found at tenant.net, here.

Know these!

Rental Length

You sign a lease and it has a range of dates on them. You are legally allowed to reside in the apartment for that length of time.

There are only three reasons that your landlord can evict you:

  1. If the written lease between a landlord or tenant is over;
  2. If a tenant withholds rent from the landlord; or
  3. If a tenant has severely violated the lease.

And even with all of these, they still must go to court to evict you with a “Warrant of Eviction” so don’t listen when you are being threatened to be kicked out. A letter from a landlord, or their lawyer, is not enough to evict you, ever ever ever!

Broker’s Fees

If you were in NYC for the beginning of 2020 then you would know that the world for brokers ended when there was a revision to the law and broker’s fees were suddenly made illegal.

If you’re not familiar, brokers are the ones negotiating you getting a new apartment and the fees they can charge can range up to 15% of the annual rent that is charged to the incoming tenant. It hurts your back pocket when you’re looking for a new place to live.

After lots of excitement from prospective tenants, this was all reversed in another lawsuit with a temporary restraining order.

So, for now, everything is as it was, you have to pay broker’s fees.

Rent Increases

Rent-controlled apartments and rent-stabilized apartments are different, as they do have limitations, but I would imagine that most people reading would not fit into these categories (you can check here).

If you don’t fit into one of these categories, here’s the crappy bit: Your landlord can increase rent at the end of a rental term by whatever amount they want. There’s no limit to this, even though that might feel unfair to you when you come to re-signing.

You are entitled to prior notice before your rent is increased (5% or more) though or if they do not plan to offer you a new lease. How much notice?

  1. If you’ve been there less than 1 year, it’s 30 days;
  2. If you’ve been there 1-2 years, it’s 60 days; and
  3. If you’ve been there 2+ years, it’s 90 days.

Security Deposits

For a long time, security deposits have been a painful part of getting a new apartment as they have ranged so wildly in cost.

Recently though, there have been laws changed which mean that landlords are only allowed to collect one month of rent as a security deposit.

At the end of your lease, there is now legislation that requires landlords to give your security deposit back within 14 days from termination of the lease (less any amount required for repairs). If you do get charged for repairs, then they must provide you with an itemized list of what was repaired and the cost of each.

The landlord can’t spend this money throughout your lease, that’s always yours until the end of your lease.

Inspections & Rights to Access

It’s important to know first that landlords do not have the right to enter your apartment whenever they want, however they do have the right to enter if they follow certain steps.

First, you must be given “reasonable notice” which means that they must notify you before they enter to make necessary repairs, inspect, or to show your place to prospective tenants or buyers.

“Reasonable” in this case means one week’s notice for repairs and 24 hours notice for inspections, and it must be made in writing. It has also been held that “reasonable” means between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding holidays). So you are able to say no to your landlord entering at all hours, and you have the power to negotiate with them if you’d like to.

That all being said, you are allowed to let your landlord in prior to these times if you do want them to come in and assist you with something. This is just what the landlord is required to do if they want to enter without your offering.

There is also an exception also for “emergencies” which can include a fire or water leak.

Utilities

Your landlord is not allowed to cut-off utilities (electricity, water, or heat) without a court instructing them so.

Breaking a lease

If you do have issues about safety or security, then sure, you might have cause to break a lease and it’s worth calling 311 to discuss your options if you get to this.

As a really simple, sweeping statement though: You don’t have a right to break a lease.

Your contract will normally have clauses about how to end the lease and when a lease ends (outside of just waiting until the end of the contract) so again, you should read the contract.

The best thing you can do is to talk to your landlord because essentially they hold all the cards. It is up to them.

Some things you can raise as options:

  1. Find another tenant;
  2. Sublet your place;
  3. Payout some/all of the lease;
  4. Ask for options;

I know that many are in financially difficult and stressful conditions right now, so it’s hard to read that there are no options. We may see revisions to state law in the coming months, but right now, you are contractually not able to get out of your obligation to pay.

You should not just skip out on your lease. This impacts you personally (as it will be attached to your credit and record and potentially massively impact your chances of getting a lease in the future). It also impacts the community of expats if you do leave and move back to your home country as this landlord would be less likely to rent out to an expat in the future.

Something to remember

“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”

While I’ve never understood why you want flies, it’s an important proverb to remember.

You have lots of rights, yes, but that doesn’t mean you should abuse them. If your landlord is bothering you, talk to them in writing. If you want to raise an issue, send them an email. Document everything, be polite, and try and come to a reasonable conclusion.

While not all landlords (just like not all tenants) are reasonable, it’s important to start on the footing that you are trying to work towards an agreement between all parties. That will make everyone’s lives easier!

If you have questions about your particular situation, then you should definitely call 311 to discuss your options!

Looking for an alternative to renting from a landlord?

Check out June Homes, who do apartments (shared and not-shared) all over NYC and the broader USA.

The Patriot Act

America Josh reader, Todd, pointed out an awesome video Hasan Minaj did as part of his show Patriot Act about (not) being evicted. You can watch it below!

Record numbers of Americans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, but rent is still due for many of them. Hasan investigates the underlying issues with housing in America as well as the impending eviction crisis many renters may be facing in months to come. For more information on what you can do as a renter to protect yourself from eviction, visit https://www.dontgetkickedout.com.