Tenants' Rights and Responsibilities

Tenants' Rights and Responsibilities

In New York City, tenants have many rights relating to the safety and quality of their housing. Tenants should expect to live in safe, well-maintained buildings that are free from vermin, leaks, and hazardous conditions. Laws protect tenants from harassment and discrimination. Tenants have responsibilities to their building owners and other tenants - including not damaging the building, and responding to annual owner inquiries related to window guards, lead-based paint, and to maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 

Free legal advice and counsel is available for New York City residential renters. To access these services, please call 311 and ask for the "Tenant Helpline", visit the Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants' Information and Resources for NYC Tenants Impacted by COVID-19 webpage, or fill out their Contact Us form.

New Tenant Protection Laws

Changes to New York State rent laws, recently passed by lawmakers in Albany, make it harder for landlords to evict any tenant. In addition, the new rent laws strengthened protections for New Yorkers living in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments. These laws are enforced by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). DHCR is the State's affordable housing agency, with a mission to build, preserve, and protect affordable housing and increase home ownership throughout New York State.

As of June 14, 2019, there are new laws protecting tenants in New York State. The new rent laws are permanent unless the legislature amends, repeals, or terminates them. Learn more about the new tenant protection laws from the NYC Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants.

The ABCs of Housing

The ABCs of Housing is HPD's guide to housing rules and regulations for owners and tenants.

Owners and tenants have legal responsibilities to each other. HPD is one of many city and state agencies that enforce those responsibilities. This booklet is designed to help owners and tenants gain an understanding of the rules and regulations affecting housing, and to provide information about how to receive assistance.

Inside the guide you will find information about owners' and tenants' rights and responsibilities, staying in your apartment safely, resources for new affordable housing or rental assistance, and useful contact information for other housing related issues.

Tenants' Rights FAQs

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What are my responsibilities as a tenant?

Tenants must comply with the provisions of the law and are responsible for violations caused by willful acts, gross negligence, and abuse. These as well as unreasonable refusal to allow access to the apartment by the owner or his or her agent or employee for the purpose of making repairs or improvements required by the Housing Maintenance Code and Multiple Dwelling Law may constitute grounds for eviction proceedings. Tenants are also responsible to respond to owners on legally required notices, including the notice regarding lead-based paint and window guards.

What are the responsibilities of my landlord?

Owners must ensure that buildings are safe, clean and well maintained, in both common areas and in individual apartments. Among other responsibilities, owners must provide and maintain security measures, heat, hot and cold water, and good lighting. Owners must register the property annually with HPD, if the building is rent-stabilized the owner must registered rents annually with the New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the owner must be in compliance with the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and New York State Multiple Dwelling Law.

My landlord refuses to make repairs to my apartment. What can I do?

If you are a tenant in a privately-owned building, there are several things you can do to get your landlord to make repairs; however, you may want to take the following steps in order to establish a record: 

  1. Contact the property owner, managing agent or building superintendent regarding the repairs. 
  2. If the property owner, managing agent or superintendent does not respond, write a letter that describes the problems in your apartment and asks for the repairs to be made by a certain date. You should send the letter to the owner and management company by certified mail and keep a copy for your records. If you do not have address information for the property owner or managing agent, you can obtain this information on HPD’s website, as the property owner is required to file this information annually. 
  3. If you do not receive a response to the letter, you should try to contact the owner in person or by phone. Let him or her know that if the repairs are not completed, you will have to file a complaint. Keep a record of all of your attempts to get the landlord to make repairs, as this will be useful in court. 
If the owner still does not respond or fails to provide essential services, you may file a complaint. You can also bring a case against the property owner in Housing Court to get an order to correct the conditions. This case is called an HP Action. HP actions are lawsuits brought by tenants or groups of tenants against landlords to force them to make repairs and provide essential services, like heat and hot water. A landlord's failure to make a repair or provide an important service may be a violation of the New York City Housing Maintenance Code or the Multiple Dwelling Law. In an HP action, a judge can order the landlord to correct the violations. If you want to start an HP proceeding against your landlord, go to the Clerk's Office at the Housing Court. You do not need a lawyer to start an HP case. 

In addition to filing a complaint with HPD or filing an action in Housing Court, tenants in rent controlled or rent stabilized apartments may contact NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to file a complaint. Call 718-739-6400 for information. DHCR may impose penalties on building owners in the form of rent reductions if a tenant's problems are valid. 

Tenants living in an HPD-owned building who have complaints about the maintenance of their apartment should call 212-491-4229 or 311 for assistance. 

Tenants with maintenance complaints about apartments in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings should call the NYCHA Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771.

I have no heat or hot water in my apartment. What can I do?

Tenants without heat or hot water should file a complaint by calling 311 (TTY 212-504-4115) or online at nyc.gov/311. Heat is required between October 1st and May 31st, a period designated as "Heat Season." Building owners are required to provide tenants with heat during these months under the following conditions: 

  • When the outside temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit between the hours of 6am and 10pm, building owners must heat apartments to at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit. HPD can only issue violations if the owner fails to supply adequate heat when the outside temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Between the hours of 10pm and 6am, regardless of the outside temperature, building owners must heat apartments to at least 62 degrees. 
  • Building owners also must ensure that tenants have hot water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at a minimum constant temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

These is peeling paint in my apartment and I have a child under 6. How can I find out if there is lead-based paint and what is my landlord supposed to do?

Tenants should report peeling paint in an apartment to the landlord. If the landlord does not fix peeling paint or if work is being done in an unsafe manner (for example, creating dust that is not being contained), tenants should call 311. Tenants may also call 311 to learn how to prevent lead poisoning, find out where to get their children tested, find information about pregnancy and lead, or request brochures and materials on lead poisoning prevention.

Can I request window guards from my landlord?

If tenants or occupants want window guards for any reason, even if there are no resident children 10 years of age or younger, the tenant can request the window guards in writing and the landlord must install them. For example, occupants who have visiting grandchildren, parents who share custody and occupants who provide child care may wish to request window guards. Tenants should call 311 if required or requested window guards have not been installed, if they appear to be insecure or improperly installed, or if there is more than four and a half inches of open unguarded space in the window opening.

Am I entitled to have my apartment painted?

Yes, the landlord must paint occupied apartments in multiple dwellings (buildings with three or more apartments) every three years. (NYC Administrative Code §27-2013). Tenant occupied apartments in private dwellings are also required to be painted as necessary.

What are the rules about living in basements and cellars?

Basements and cellars are very different spaces and thus have different legal uses. A basement is a story of a building partly below curb level but with at least one-half of its height above the curb level. A cellar is an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level. Basements and cellars of multiple dwellings may not be occupied unless the conditions meet the minimum requirements for light, air, sanitation, and egress, and have been approved by the City’s Department of Buildings. Cellars in one and two-family homes can NEVER be lawfully rented or occupied for residential use. Basements in one-and two-family homes can NEVER be lawfully rented or occupied for residential use unless the conditions have received approval by the Department of Buildings. Owners with illegally converted basements and cellars may face civil and criminal penalties. Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments face potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and inadequate egress in the event of a fire. Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments may be ordered by the City to vacate or leave any such apartment. Complaints regarding illegal cellars or basements should be directed to 311, which will forward the complaint to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). For more information, please refer to DOB’s website at nyc.gov/buildings.

Can my landlord enter my apartment at any time?

Generally no. However, a landlord may enter a tenant's apartment in some situations. Your landlord can enter your apartment at any time and without notice in an emergency, and at a reasonable time after providing appropriate notice if the entry is either:

  • To provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services, or 
  • In accordance with the lease, or 
  • To show the apartment to prospective tenants or purchasers; and 

My landlord has changed the locks on my apartment. Is the landlord allowed to change my locks?

Changing the locks on a resident's apartment without giving the resident a key is a violation of the Unlawful Eviction Law (NYC Administrative Code §26-521) if the landlord does not have a warrant of eviction or if the resident is:  

  • A resident of a rent stabilized hotel room who has made a request for a lease; and 
  • A tenant or subtenant with a lease, 
  • An occupant who has lawfully lived in the apartment for more than thirty days (with or without the lease), 
  • A subtenant, roommate or relative who has lived in the apartment for at least thirty days (even if the person is not on the lease and has not made any direct payments to the landlord). 
You can go to the nearest police station and report that you have been illegally locked out. You can also go to the Housing Court and start an "illegal lock out case" (Real Property Actions Proceedings Law §853). Before going to the court, you should contact Legal Aid or Legal Services to see if you qualify for free legal representation. If you are not eligible, you may want to contact a private attorney to assist you in starting the case. Even if you do not have an attorney, you can still go to Housing Court and speak to the Clerk about starting an illegal lock out case proceeding. When you go to Court, you should bring any papers or other items that you have which show that you are a resident of your apartment/building. 

If you believe or suspect that you will be locked out of your apartment, you should be prepared with the necessary documentation to establish that you are the lawful occupant of the apartment. Therefore, you may want to leave copies of whatever papers you have which establish your occupancy with a friend or relative who does not live in the apartment. You also should take the documents with you whenever you leave your apartment so that you can establish to the Police Department and/or the Court that you are the lawful occupant. 

Documents that will be useful include, but are not limited to: 

  • A lease,
  • Rent receipts, 
  • Utility bills or other bills directed to you with respect to your apartment (telephone, cable, etc.), 
  • Mail addressed to you or documents issued to you at your apartment (letters, voter registration card, driver's license, etc.), 
  • Any documentation of previous harassment by or conflict with the landlord. 
If you, the tenant, change your locks, the law requires that you provide a copy of the key(s) to the landlord.

My Landlord raised my rent. I think it is too high. What can I do?

If your apartment is subject to rent control or rent stabilization, DHCR and the Rent Guidelines Board determine the amount that your landlord may increase your rent. If you don't know the status of your apartment, you can call DHCR at 718-739-6400 or access your apartment's rental history. DHCR can also answer any questions about whether the amount of the increase is too high. 

If your apartment is not regulated, DHCR does not regulate your rent. If you have a lease, the legal rent is what it states in the lease and can be raised only as permitted by the lease or at the expiration of the lease. If you do not have a lease, the landlord may raise your rent to whatever amount the landlord wishes, as long as the landlord tells you a month before the rent increase. If you do not pay the increase, the landlord may evict you if you received legally adequate notice of the increase. 

If you live in public or subsidized housing, increases in the amount of rent you pay are subject to the regulations for that housing and are usually related to your family's income.

Am I supposed to get my security deposit back?

Yes, at the end of your tenancy, you are entitled to get your security deposit back with interest. Before returning your deposit the landlord may check your apartment to determine if you caused any damage. If you did not cause damage to the apartment, except for normal wear, the landlord should return the full amount of your deposit with interest. If you did cause damage, the landlord must provide you with an itemized statement indicating the basis for any amount retianed and the balance of the remaining deposit within fourteen days of vacating the apartment. If the landlord fails to do so they forfeit any right to the deposit. The landlord must also notify you in writing of your right to request an inspection of the apartment before vacating and your right to be present at the inspection. After the inspection an itemized statment specifying repairs and cleaning that are proposed and the basis for the duduction in the security deposit must be given to you. You can then cure any condition before the end of your tenancy.

What should I do if my building owner is harassing me?

Building owners are prohibited by law from harassing tenants to force them out of their apartments. Examples of harassment include verbal or physical abuse, consistent withholding of services, or persistent physical or mental intimidation. 

Any tenants (rent regulated or not rent regulated) who live in buildings with three or more units who believe they are being harassed may have grounds to initiate legal action in Housing Court against their building owners. Tenants may want to consult with and secure the services of an attorney before initiating any lawsuit. Tenants who cannot afford legal representation may be eligible for free or inexpensive legal assistance. Visit Fair Housing NYC for more information.

Can a building owner discriminate against me?

By law, owners may not deny prospective tenants housing because of race, color, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, immigrant status, source of income, or legal occupation. Furthermore, tenants may not be denied housing because children may or will be residing with them. Visit Fair Housing NYC for more information.

Can I have pets in my apartment?

Unless the pet can be considered a "service animal" used by blind, deaf or disabled people, whether pets are permitted is at the discretion of the building owner and is usually stipulated in the lease. If a tenant keeps a pet in the apartment without the building owner's permission, it may be considered a serious violation of the lease and may be a basis for terminating tenancy. In addition, many animals cannot be kept legally as pets in the City of New York. For more information on pet regulations, call 311.

Note: The content on this web site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or opinion. The content of this web site may not reflect current legal developments. Since the law is constantly changing and since the law will vary based on different facts and circumstances, statements on this web site regarding the status of a given law or legal issue may not be current or applicable to your particular situation.