This month’s blog post is going to be a bit different. It’s longer, less current-events-based, and inspired by a recent Instagram story I saw.

One of the influencers I follow recently posted about her experience with an NYC super and landlord who did not take her claims of a bug infestation and mold seriously, and it ended up being severely detrimental to her physical and mental health. The only reason she was eventually able to resolve the issues was because she knew that she had reasonable standing to threaten legal action, and she was able to call her landlord’s bluff when he tried to convince her otherwise. As she shared the experience to social media, she emphasized repeatedly the importance of knowing your rights, and I think that’s a topic I’m overdue in covering on this blog.

Believe it or not, NYC has some of the strictest tenant protection laws in the country. It’s also a city of, according to this 2020 data, nearly 68% renters, who likely don’t know all of those rights and are therefore being exploited by landlords who enjoy that fact.

Here are some of the basic tenant laws that I think every renter should be aware of, some of which were granted more recently in light of the pandemic:

  • Landlords cannot legally evict or attempts to evict a tenant without a warrant of eviction or other court order. Unlawful evictions will result in fines for the landlord of $1,000-$10,000 per incident.
  • It is furthermore illegal for landlords to force tenants to leave the building or surrender their rights. Tenant harassment includes the following:
    • Not offering leases or lease renewals, or repeatedly trying to pay you to move out.
    • Unjustified eviction notices or illegal lockouts 
    • Threats and intimidation, such as late-night phone calls
    • Overcharging for a rent-regulated apartment.
    • Failure to provide necessary repairs or utilities.
    • Deliberately causing construction-related problems for tenants, such as working after hours, blocking entrances, or failing to remove excessive dust or debris.
  • All tenants with qualifying income across NYC have the “Right to Counsel,” guaranteeing them a lawyer in Housing Court should they face eviction. Qualifying income is 200% below the poverty line, which is about $23,000 for a single person and about $49,000 for a family of 4. Read more about why RTC is so important, here.
  • Apartment application fees were recently limited to $20
  • Late fees on rent can only be charged if the payment is provided more than 5 days after the monthly due date established in the lease. Furthermore, late fees cannot exceed $50 or 5% of the rent: whichever is less.

I also found this article, which was written when the pandemic first slammed NYC. I highly recommend giving it a thorough read, but here’s a brief overview of the 10 rights referenced in the article’s title and discussed in detail throughout:

  • “New York City renters have the right to live in “safe, well maintained buildings that are free from pests, leaks and hazardous conditions.” Pretty standard, right? What people don’t think about as much is that if your landlord is refusing to maintain those conditions, you can take them to court.
  • “There are different classes of housing violations, which affect when they must be remedied.” Don’t let your landlord keep you waiting. Depending on the issue you’re dealing with, your landlord may be required to address your issue more quickly than they current are. Here’s a guide from on the classifications.
  • “There’s a “heat season” that landlords must pay attention to.” You’re required by law to have heat from October 1 to May 31 (with stipulations detailed in the article), and you’re always supposed to have hot water, no exceptions.
  •  “Landlords are required to tell you if an apartment has had bedbugs in the past year.” Worth asking about if they don’t bring it up!!
  • “How often is a landlord legally allowed to raise your rent, and by how much?” At the end of your lease-NOT mid-lease. If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord must give you the option to renew your lease once it’s up, at which point, they can raise your rent. The city limits that increase.
  • “If you’re over the age of 62 or disabled, you may be able to get a rent freeze.” More info on the rent freeze program here.
  • “You have the right to form a tenants’ association with other building residents.” I literally cannot overemphasize the importance of strength in numbers. Collective action is one of the best strategies for putting pressure on landlords; this article has some tips for running a successful tenants’ association.
  • “If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, you can — and should — request your apartment’s rent history.” They are LEGALLY REQUIRED to share this information with you. If it turns out they’ve been charging above the legally mandated rent for your apartment, you can file a complaint with DHCR to potentially get back the money you’ve lost on that overcharge.
  • “There are new rules regulating security deposits.” Landlords were recently limited to charging only up to a month’s rent for security. Additionally (and this one’s a biggie for me, as a student currently in the process of moving from the BX to Manhattan), if you landlord isn’t returning your security deposit, they are required to provide an itemized statement of repair costs that clearly demonstrates the basis for any amount not being returned within fourteen days of vacating the apartment. If they don’t do this, they forfeit any right to the deposit.
  • “Document everything.” Whether it’s mold, a leak, bugs, whatever…take pictures and notes and send it all to your landlord in a certified letter so that you have proof of delivery in case you ever end up in Housing Court.

The gist? It’s your landlord’s job to help you with your housing problem. Don’t be afraid to ask them to do that job. And if your landlord is the problem? Time to go to a tenants’ association, the housing department, or court.

And to finish off, here are some resources where you can learn more about your rights as a tenant in NYC: