10 NYC tenants’ rights your landlord doesn’t want you to know

A row of red brick townhouses with wrought iron railings and stoops. Max
Touhey

Know your rights

New York City is a city of renters: According to a recent
Zillow study
, 68 percent of NYC residents rent their homes,
giving us the largest share of renters in the entire country.

But how many of those renters are aware of their basic rights as
tenants? Both the city and state have codified certain provisions
into law, both on the most basic level—you’re entitled to heat,
hot water, and a clean living space—and for things that are
slightly more complicated, like rent stabilization.

There are plenty of online repositories for this kind of
information, from the city’s Department of Housing
Preservation and Development
(HPD), the state’s Division
of Housing and Community Renewal
(DHCR), and tenants’ rights
groups like the Met
Council on Housing
.

Here, we’ve created a primer on a few key rights all tenants
should know.

1. New York City renters have the right to live in “safe, well
maintained buildings that are free from pests, leaks and hazardous
conditions.”

This is the core of New York City’s tenants’ rights laws:
Landlords must maintain livable units—ones in which the heat and
hot water works; the plumbing is in good working order; there
isn’t a mold problem or peeling paint; there aren’t rats,
rodents, or other vermin running free; and basic safety measures,
such as smoke detectors and window guards, are provided.

2. There are different classes of housing violations, which affect
when they must be remedied.

Let’s say your apartment is suddenly overrun with roaches
(which, ew). This is considered a “Class C,” or immediately
hazardous, violation by HPD, and according to the law, must be
remedied by your landlord within 21 days. There are several
different classes of violations: “A” is non-hazardous and has a
90-day remediation period; “B” is hazardous, and must be
remedied in 30 days; and within “C”—immediately
hazardous—there are different remediation periods depending on
the severity of the issue. A lack of heat or hot water, for
instance, must be repaired “immediately,” or a landlord may
face penalties. It’s good to familiarize yourself with all of the
classes, and what types of issues they correlate to; Tenant.net has a simple
guide
.

3. There’s a “heat season” that landlords must pay attention
to.

Losing your heat in the winter, or hot water at any point in the
year, is a pain—and a problem that your landlord must remedy
immediately. Specifically, city law states that heat must be
provided from October 1 to May 31, with several stipulations:
During the day, if it’s consistently below 55 degrees, the inside
temperature must be 68 degrees; at night, regardless of what the
thermometer says outside, the inside temperature must be at least
62 degrees.

Hot water is a different story: All rental apartments must have
hot water 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per
years—no exceptions.

4. Landlords are required to tell you if an apartment has had
bedbugs in the past year.

Not only are landlords legally obligated to get rid of bedbugs
if, heaven forbid, they become a presence in your apartment,
they’re also obligated to report if a particular unit has been
infested with bedbugs within the past year. According to the Met
Council on Housing
, bedbugs are a Class B violation, so your
landlord has 30 days to remedy the issue; once they’ve brought in
an exterminator (who must be licensed by the NY State Department of
Environmental Conservation), the landlord is also responsible for
stopping an infestation from happening again.

5. How often is a landlord legally allowed to raise your rent, and
by how much?

Landlords are allowed to raise rents at the end of a lease
period, which is typically one or two years. The amount varies
based on the type of housing you live in. If you’re not in a
rent-regulated unit, the amount by which your rent can be raised is
at your landlord’s discretion. But under the new rent laws that
went into effect earlier this year, landlords must give at least 30
days notice if they plan to raise your rent by more than five
percent; it’s 60 days if you’ve been renting for 1-2 years, and
90 days if you’ve been renting for at least two years.

If you apartment is rent-stabilized, your landlord must give you
the option to renew your lease once it’s up (they’re required
to contact you at least 90 days before the lease ends); at that
point, they may also raise your rent. But it can only go up by a
certain amount decided by the city; for leases beginning on or
after October 1 of this year, that number is 1.5 percent for
one-year leases and 2.5 percent for two-year leases.

Landlords may also tack on an increase if they’ve made
upgrades to your building or apartment (known as a major capital
improvement or individual apartment improvement), but only by two
percent under the new rent laws.

5. If you’re over the age of 62 or disabled, you may be able to
get a rent freeze.

New York City has a rent freeze
program
in place for renters who are 62-years-old and older,
and for people with disabilities who are 18 or older. “Under this
program, a property tax credit covers the difference between the
actual rent amount and what you (the tenant) are responsible for
paying at the frozen rate,” according to the city’s guide on
the subject.

How it works: If you meet eligibility requirements for either
program (which including having an annual income of $50,000 or
less, and spending more than a third of your monthly income on
rent), you can apply for the benefit—and your landlord is
obligated to honor it. (“Landlords cannot prevent a tenant from
participating in the program,” per the city.) Find out more
through the city’s
guide to the Rent Freeze Program
. One important thing to note:
market-rate housing, and certain low-income apartments (including
those in NYCHA complexes) are not eligible.

6. You have the right to form a tenants’ association with other
building residents.

There is power in collective action—and if you live in a
building with chronic issues, you may want to band together with
your fellow residents to ensure your landlord or property manager
is fulfilling their responsibilities. To that end, residents of a
building can organize as a tenants’ association without fear of
reprisal or pushback from their landlord; the building owner is
also obligated to allow meetings to happen in common areas.

7. If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, you can—and
should—request your apartment’s rent history.

Landlords of rent-stabilized apartments are legally required to
register those units, along with its rental history and increases
throughout the years. And tenants have the right to request that
history at any time—DHCR has a
new portal
that has made the process super simple.

Why is this important? If you find that your landlord has been
charging above the legally mandated rent for your apartment, you
can file a complaint
with DHCR to potentially recoup the amount you were
overcharged.

8. There are new rules regulating security deposits.

Renters are all too familiar with being asked for a chunk of
cash—often the sum total of your first and last month’s
rent—as a security deposit for a new apartment. But the rent laws
passed earlier this year have improved that policy for all
apartment dwellers, limiting the amount a landlord can collect to
just one month. Additionally, landlords now have 14 days from the
termination of a lease to return the security deposit, less any
amount being withheld for repairs—and they’re required to
submit an itemized list of any deductions made for those fixes.

9. Document everything.

“In general, when fighting with your landlord over repairs and
services, keeping good records is key,” according to
the Met Council
. What that means: If an issue comes up—mold
is growing in your bathroom, roaches have taken over your kitchen,
or your heat hasn’t been working for a few days—be sure to take
meticulous notes, and to submit whatever proof you have of the
problem in writing. Take pictures, record every instance of an
issue (and how long it hasn’t been fixed), and send all of this
to your landlord in a certified letter to ensure proof of delivery.
If you end up in housing court, all of that documentation will come
in handy.

10. Don’t ignore problems until it’s too late.

The bottom line: If something seems off about your rental
situation, don’t wait until it gets out of hand to tell your
landlord there’s a problem; the sooner you report, the sooner you
can (hopefully) get fixes implemented. And if you have issues with
your landlord or property manager—whether it’s harassment,
indifference to needed repairs, or something else entirely—seek
input from a tenants’ rights organization or the housing
department right away.

Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
10 NYC tenants’ rights your landlord doesn’t want you to know