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Mayor's Office for International Affairs
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Frequently Asked Questions

A note from the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs regarding frequently asked questions: this information is crafted as a guide to highlight some basic issues faced by residential tenants in New York City. Various state and local laws protect tenant’s rights. In addition, rent stabilization, rent control or other rent regulations, may have special rules applicable to certain residences. Tenants are strongly advised to consult an attorney regarding particular situations that may arise from time to time. General information contained herein with respect to legal issues should be used as a general guide to gain an understanding of the particular subject matter and not relied upon as legal advice. The answers to frequently asked questions might not be referenced or cited as a legal or policy position of the City of New York.

For further inquiries, please contact the Office's Legal Department at (212) 319-9300.

What is the mission of the legal department?
What is a lease?
What should I do if my apartment is not available on the date the lease begins?
Are all lease provisions enforceable?
What are rental security deposits?
What should I do if I have a problem with my landlord?
How do I tell if my apartment is rent stabilized?
How will rent be determined?
What are a landlord's basic duties to tenants?
Must the landlord renew my lease?
May I sublet or assign my lease?
How do I sublet my apartment?
When may a landlord evict me?





What is the mission of the legal department?

Legal Affairs is one of the direct problem-solving arms of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. The staff advises all City agencies on questions of policy that arise due to the presence in New York of the United Nations, foreign governments and their personnel.

Legal Affairs works directly with City agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Finance (DOF), Environmental Control Board (ECB), Department of Buildings (DOB), and Police Department (NYPD), as well as with local community boards. These institutions frequently seek the Office's advice on the applicability of various U.S. treaty provisions, and federal, state, and local laws as such relate to the international resident community.

Legal Affairs also assists the United Nations, as well as foreign diplomats and consular officers in navigating possible legal issues encountered while working and residing in New York City. Additionally, the staff assists citizens and businesses of New York City with complaints or problems related to the international community.

Legal inquiries from missions and consulates frequently relate to leases, purchase and sale of property, banking and taxation, contracts and commercial law, criminal law, legal procedure, and privileges and immunities. Requests for assistance from individual diplomats involve insurance questions, consumer protection matters, customs and immigration law, and a wide variety of real estate transactions.

Legal Affairs serves as the conduit for the diplomatic and consular community to the respective City agencies able to assist in resolving such issues and provides information on various other legal resources. Furthermore, the agency offers voluntary alternative dispute resolution for the United Nations and foreign government resident personnel, as well as for individuals and businesses within the City of New York should they encounter legal issues with the international resident community.

While the Office does assist in providing information on resources for a wide spectrum of legal issues through Legal Affairs, the Office does not actually represent any party.


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What is a lease?

A lease is a written form of contract entered into between a property owner (a landlord) and an individual or entity (a tenant). A lease contains the terms and conditions agreed upon by the landlord and the tenant which will govern the occupancy of the apartment (or premises). The lease terms will include the amount of rent to be paid (on a monthly basis) the amount of security deposit to be held, and the rules and regulations with respect to the use of the premises. Generally speaking, the lease will anticipate most situations that may occur during a tenancy. If an event contained in the lease occurs during the tenancy, the parties will know in advance their respective rights and obligations. Leases must use words with common and everyday meanings and must be clear and coherent. Sections of leases must be appropriately captioned and the print must be large enough to read easily. Most landlords today use lease documents that are preprinted forms. At a minimum, a lease should clearly state:

  • the legal names and addresses of the parties
  • the amount and due date for the rent
  • the term of the lease
  • whether the premises are subject to any rent regulation
  • if a broker was employed in the transaction
  • any specific conditions of occupancy
  • the terms by which the security deposit will be held
  • the rights and obligations of both parties

Except where otherwise provided by law, parties may agree on specific terms and conditions within the lease to account for individual situations, for example, whether pets are allowed within the premises. However, if a court finds a lease or any lease clause to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, that court may refuse to enforce the lease or the clause in question. Tenants who do not have leases and pay rent on a monthly basis are called "month-to-month" tenants.


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What should I do if my apartment is not available on the date the lease begins?

Unless the lease states otherwise, the apartment must be made available to the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy. If the landlord does not make the apartment available on the date promised in the lease, the tenant has the right to cancel the lease and obtain a full refund of any deposit. The tenant cannot be held responsible to pay rent for days the apartment is unavailable. So, if the tenant does not wish to cancel the lease, the tenant will only be required to pay the pro-rata share of the rent for time of actual occupancy.

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Are all lease provisions enforceable?

No. The mere fact that a landlord inserts a provision into a lease does not necessarily mean that it is valid. If the court finds a lease or any lease clause to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, the court may refuse to enforce the lease or the clause in question. Lease provisions that exempt landlords from liability for injuries to persons or property caused by the landlord's negligence or that of his employees are null and void. Furthermore, a lease provision that waives the tenant's right to a jury trial in any lawsuit brought by either of the parties against the other for personal injury or property damage is also null and void. Another example of an unconscionable lease provision would be one requiring a tenant to pledge his/her household furniture as security for rent.

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What are rental security deposits?

Most leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually based upon the monthly rent. A typical security deposit equals one month's rent. The landlord is obligated to return the security deposit, minus any justifiable deduction, to the tenant at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time after termination thereof. Generally, a landlord may use the security deposit: (1) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs to the premises beyond normal wear and tear, if the tenant damages the apartment; or (b) as reimbursement for any unpaid/additional rent which may become due during the term of the lease. Landlords must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not merge deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must maintain all security deposits in bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. Tenants must be informed, in writing, of the bank's name and address and the amount of the deposit. Landlords are entitled to administrative expenses of 1% of the deposit annually. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to the tenants.

If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord is not obligated to hold deposits in an interest bearing account, however those who voluntarily place the security deposits in an interest bearing bank account must also follow these rules. If the building is sold during the term of the lease, the landlord must transfer all security deposits to the new owner, or return the security deposits to the tenants. Landlords must notify the tenants, by registered or certified mail, of the name and address of the new owner. Purchasers of rent stabilized buildings are directly responsible to tenants for the return of security deposits and any interest where the purchaser has "actual knowledge" of the security deposits. This responsibility exists whether or not the new owner received the security deposits from the former landlord. Purchasers of rent-controlled buildings or buildings containing six or more apartments, where tenants have written leases, are directly responsible to tenants for the return of security deposits and interest. The law defines specifically when a new owner is deemed to have "actual knowledge" of the security deposits.


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What should I do if I have a problem with my landlord?

If a problem arises with the landlord, tenants should first try to resolve it with the landlord directly before taking other action. If a dispute cannot be resolved amicably, tenants should seek professional advice as to how to proceed. Tenants may wish to contact an attorney or an administrative agency, which may regulate the particular situation in question. Should a problem arise with your landlord, all contact with the landlord should be in writing. If you are making a request of the landlord or complaining about a particular condition, written correspondence should be sent via certified mail.

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How do I tell if my apartment is rent stabilized?

Generally speaking, stabilized buildings contain six or more units and were built before 1974. Co-ops and condos cannot be rent stabilized. For your apartment to be stabilized it must have had a rent of less than $2,000, if you initially moved into the apartment in 1993 or later. There are, however, some exceptions to these basic telltale signs. The only way to definitively ascertain if your apartment is rent stabilized is to contact the state agency that administers rent laws: the NY State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), at (718) 739-6400. Tenants protected by rent stabilization have the right to either a one or two year lease when they move into an apartment except under certain circumstances such as, for example, when the apartment is not used as the tenant's primary residence. Rent stabilized tenants must also be given a rent stabilization lease rider, prepared by DHCR, which summarizes their rights under the law and provides specific information on how the vacancy rent was calculated. New York City rent stabilized tenants are entitled to receive a fully executed copy of their signed lease within 30 days of the landlord's receipt of the lease signed by the tenant. The lease's beginning and ending dates must be stated. In New York City, the landlord may not charge more than the legal-regulated rent. Landlords must register each rent-stabilized apartment with DHCR and provide tenants annually with a copy of the registration statement. Tenants may also get a copy of the rent history for their apartment directly from DHCR.

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How will rent be determined?

If an apartment is not subject to rent stabilization, rent control, or other types of rent regulation, a landlord may charge market rent or any amount agreed upon by the parties. If the apartment is subject to such rent regulation, the rent and subsequent rent increases are set by statute. A tenant may challenge the regulated rent with the DHCR. Landlords of rent stabilized buildings may seek rent increases for certain types of building-wide major capital improvements, such as the replacement of a boiler, and for new services, new equipment or improvements to an apartment in accordance with the law and regulations. Under limited circumstances, a landlord may also apply for a hardship rent increase. Landlords must provide tenants with a written receipt when rent is paid by cash, money order, cashier's check, or in any form other than the personal check of a tenant. Where a tenant pays the rent by personal check, the tenant may submit a written request for a rent receipt from the landlord. The receipt must state the payment date, the amount, the period for which the rent was paid, and the apartment number. The receipt must be signed by the person receiving the payment and state his or her title.

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What are a landlord's basic duties to tenants?

Lead Paint

Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City, which contain children 6 years of age or younger, must actively protect those children against the possibility of being exposed to lead-based paint. Landlords must abate lead paint conditions or cover affected areas where paint is visibly peeling. In New York, the law presumes that lead-based paint was used in the apartment if the building was built prior to January 1, 1960. In addition, landlords must provide all tenants with a pamphlet and a disclosure form, which warns the tenants of the hazards of lead-based paint. The landlord must also advise the tenant if lead-based paint is present anywhere in the apartment and building.

Smoke Detectors

Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City must install one or more approved smoke detectors in each apartment near each room used for sleeping. Tenants may be asked to reimburse the owner up to $10.00 for the cost of purchasing and installing each battery-operated detector. Landlords are responsible for the repair or replacement of any broken detector if its malfunction is not the fault of the tenant.

Window Guards

Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City must install approved window guards in every window in any apartment in which a child ten years of age or younger resides. Windows providing access to fire escapes are excluded. Window guards must also be installed on the windows of all public areas. Landlords must give tenants notice of their rights to install window guards and must provide this information in any lease or rider thereto.

Warranty of Habitability

Tenants have the right to reside in a comfortable, safe, and sanitary apartment. Landlords must provide heat and hot water on a regular basis. They also must control insect/pest infestation. If a landlord breaches this agreement, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. The tenant may also withhold rent for recurring conditions, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for nonpayment of rent. In such a case, the tenant may counter sue for breach of the warranty. Any adverse condition caused by the tenant or other persons under the tenant's direction or control does not constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability by the landlord. In such a case, it is the responsibility of the tenant to remedy the condition. Rent reductions may be ordered if a court finds that the landlord violated the warranty of habitability. The reduction is computed by subtracting from the actual rent, the estimated value of the apartment without the essential services. A landlord's liability for damages may be limited when the failure to provide services is the result of circumstances beyond the landlord's control. For example, a water main break or workers' strike. In cases of emergency or neglect by the landlord, tenants may make necessary repairs and deduct the reasonable repair costs from rent when due. For example, when a landlord has been notified that a sink is leaking and willfully neglects to repair it, the tenant may hire a plumber and deduct the cost from the rent. Tenants should obtain receipts for the repairs and present them to the landlord along with a written explanation of the deduction from the rent.

Right to Quiet Use and Enjoyment

Tenants have the right to reside in a reasonably quiet, intrusion-free environment. Landlords must ensure that tenants’ rights are not interfered by nuisances, other tenants or interruptions. Any complaints with respect to such matters should first be addressed to the landlord in writing and sent via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Duty of Repair

Landlords must keep the apartments and the building's public areas in "good repair", clean and free of insects/rodents, garbage or other inappropriate material. Landlords are required to maintain heating, electrical, plumbing, ventilation, lighting, drainage systems, and appliances installed by the landlord, such as refrigerators, air-conditioners and stoves in good and safe working order.

Safety/Crime Prevention

Landlords are only required to take minimal precautions to protect against foreseeable criminal harm. As such, tenants should be practical, be aware of their surroundings and take any necessary steps that would decrease the likelihood of becoming a crime victim.

Entrance Door Locks and Intercoms

Multiple dwellings that were built or converted to such use after January 1, 1968 must have automatic self-closing and self-locking doors at all entrances. These doors must be kept locked at all times except when a doorman is on duty. If a multiple dwelling contains eight or more apartments, it must also have a two-way intercom system from each apartment to the front door to allow tenants to determine who is at the entranceway and to allow that tenant to grant or deny visitors access. Multiple dwellings built or converted to such use prior to January 1, 1968 also must have self-locking doors and a two-way intercom system if requested by a majority of the tenants. Landlords may recover from tenants the cost of providing this equipment.

Doorman Service

Doorman service is not a right in New York City. However, if a doorman is not provided, tenants of multiple dwellings with eight or more apartments are entitled to maintain doorman service for their safety and security at their own expense.

Elevator Mirrors

Landlords must supply a mirror in each self-service elevator in multiple dwellings.

Tenant Installed Locks and Other Security Measures

Tenants may install and maintain their own locks on entrance doors in addition to the locks supplied by the landlord. Tenants must provide their landlord with a duplicate key upon request. Landlords must keep landlord installed locks in good repair. Tenants are responsible for units they install and the particular system used may have to meet certain requirements. Tenants should consult their landlord before changing or adding any lock. Landlords must provide a peephole in the entrance door of each apartment. Landlords of multiple dwellings in New York City are also obligated by law to install a chain-door guard on the entrance door to each apartment.

Mail

United States Postal Service (USPS) regulations require mailboxes in buildings containing three or more apartments to be secured by the landlords unless the landlord has arranged in advance to distribute the mail to each apartment. Landlords must keep the mailboxes in good repair.

More helpful suggestions can be extracted from a guide entitled, Safety Tips for the Diplomatic Community, available from the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, or the NYPD 17th Precinct at (212) 826-3224.


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Must the landlord renew my lease?

Generally speaking, a tenant may only renew a non-regulated lease with the consent of the landlord. However, a lease may contain an automatic renewal clause. In such case, the landlord must give the tenant advance notice of the existence of this clause between 15 and 30 days before the tenant is required to notify the landlord of an intention not to renew the lease.

Rent regulated apartments may involve a duty to renew the lease.

The renewal leases for rent stabilized tenants must contain the same terms and conditions as the prior lease and rental increases, if any, as prescribed by law but may provide for a rent increase according to rates permitted by the Rent Guidelines Board. Rent stabilized tenants may choose either a one-year or a two-year renewal lease. For New York City rent stabilized tenants, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant of the right to renewal no more than 150 days and not less than 120 days prior to the end of the lease. After receipt of the notice of renewal, the tenant has 60 days in which to accept. If the tenant does not accept the renewal offer within the prescribed time, the landlord may refuse to renew the lease and seek to evict the tenant through court proceedings.

In New York City, the landlord must serve the tenant with a written termination giving 30 days notice before the expiration of the term. The notice must state that the landlord elects to terminate the tenancy and that refusal to vacate will lead to eviction proceedings.


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May I sublet or assign my lease?

Subletting and assignment are methods of transferring the tenant's legal interest in an apartment to another tenant during the term of the lease. A sublet transfers less than the tenant's entire interest in the lease while an assignment transfers the balance of the lease term to the new individual. A tenant may not assign the lease without the landlord's written consent. The landlord may withhold consent within reason. If the landlord reasonably refuses consent, the tenant cannot assign and is not entitled to be released from the lease. If the landlord withholds consent unreasonably, the tenant may be entitled to be released from the lease after giving 30 days notice in writing. This situation is factually dependent on a case-by-case basis. Consult a professional before taking any action with regard to assigning a lease.

Tenants who have leases and live in buildings with four or more apartments have the right to sublet with the landlord's advance consent. The landlord may not unreasonably withhold consent. If the landlord consents to the sublet, the tenant remains liable to the landlord for the obligations of the lease regardless of the action of the subletting tenant. If the landlord denies the sublet on reasonable grounds, the tenant cannot sublet and the landlord is not required to release the tenant from the lease. If the landlord denies the sublet on unreasonable grounds, the tenant may sublet. If a lawsuit results, the tenant may recover court costs and attorney's fees if a judge rules that the landlord denied the sublet in bad faith. If in the lawsuit the tenant loses, eviction for an illegal sublet may result. Consult a professional before taking any action with regard to subletting a lease.

A sublet or assignment that does not comply with the law may be grounds for eviction.


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How do I sublet my apartment?

The tenant must send a written request to the landlord (certified mail, return-receipt requested is recommended). The request must state:
  • length of the sublease
  • name, home and business address of the proposed subtenant
  • reason for subletting
  • tenant's home and business address during term of the sublet
  • the written consent of any co-tenant or guarantor to the original lease
  • a copy of the proposed sublease along with a copy of the tenant's own lease

Within 10 days after actual mailing of the request, the landlord may ask the tenant for additional information to help make a decision, for example, financial statements of the proposed new tenant. Any request for additional information must be reasonable and may not be unduly burdensome. Within 30 days after the mailing of the tenant's request to sublet or the additional information requested by the landlord, whichever is later, the landlord must send the tenant a written notice of consent, or if consent is denied, the basis for denial. A landlord's failure to send this written notice is considered consent to sublet. There are additional subletting rules which apply to rent stabilized tenants. Please consult a professional for these additional requirements.


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When may a landlord evict me?

A landlord may bring a summary nonpayment court proceeding to evict a tenant who fails to pay the agreed rent when due and to recover outstanding rent. In addition, a landlord may also bring a summary holdover eviction proceeding if, for example, a tenant significantly violates a substantial obligation under the lease, such as using the premises for illegal purposes, committing or permitting a nuisance, or staying beyond the lease term without permission. To evict a tenant, a landlord must sue in court. Only a sheriff, marshal, or constable can carry out a court ordered warrant of eviction against a tenant.

A landlord may not use self-help methods and evict a tenant by use of force or unlawful means. For example, a landlord cannot threaten a tenant or use violence, remove a tenant's possessions, lock the tenant out of the apartment, or willfully discontinue essential services owed the tenant pursuant to the lease. When a tenant is evicted, the landlord may not retain the tenant's property.

A tenant who is put out of an apartment in a forcible or unlawful manner is entitled to recover triple damages in a legal action against the landlord. Landlords in New York City who use illegal methods to force a tenant to move are also subject to both criminal and civil liability. Additionally, the tenant is entitled to regain possession of the apartment.

Consult an attorney to protect your legal rights if your landlord seeks possession of your apartment.


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