How to Protect Your Rights as a Renter

Posted by: TheGuarantors on September 1, 2021

Fran Lebowitz, renowned author, and sardonic social commentator, once said, "No one can afford to live in New York. Yet, eight million people do." And most New Yorkers can agree that life in the city is not always as glamorous as it seems. Tenants deal with everything from broken radiators to leaking pipes and a popular New York staple - rats! Dreamy apartments don't always come with dreamy caretakers, which is why every New Yorker should know their rights as a tenant.

We'll cover the minimum living standards your landlord should provide, common disputes, New York tenant rights, and ways you can file complaints if necessary.

Minimum Living Standards to Expect

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(Source: The New York Times)

Your apartment is entitled to regular maintenance. These essential services include (but are not limited to):

  • Plumbing
  • Electricity
  • Pest Control (bed bugs, rats, cockroaches)
  • Renovations (peeling lead paint or wallpaper)
  • Temperature control (radiators)
  • Safety hazards (smoke detectors, broken fire escape)

Common Tenant-Landlord Disputes

Pest Control

An infestation of bugs or other pests can quickly ruin an otherwise peaceful living situation. According to New York tenants' rights, the landlord is, in most cases, the person responsible for maintaining pest-free habitability. If your lease explicitly mentions extermination and pest control services, you can demand that the landlord take care of the problem.

However, the exception lies in cases of the infestation being a direct result of the tenant's living conditions and actions. For example, not taking the trash out regularly, unwashed sheets, and uncovered food around the apartment.

Building Conditions and Services

New Yorkers are all too aware of how the cold can seep through even the puffiest winter coats! That is why heat and hot water are state-mandated essential services that every landlord must provide, especially between October 1st and May 31st ("heat season"). Refreshing any peeling paint and ensuring no use of lead-based paint also comes under New York tenants' rights.

If your landlord has been negligent in addressing these safety violations or health hazards, send a written notice to them as well as the local authority. Make sure to include a clear description and add images to support your concern.

Rent Increases

Maintaining a budget in one of the most expensive cities in the world can all go astray with just one rent increase. According to New York tenants rights, a landlord can raise your rent exclusively within the expressed amount on your lease. If you have a periodic agreement, they can increase your rent but are obligated to provide a formal notice a month in advance. Additionally, if you have a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, the increase can be once every 12 months, in the set percentage.

How To Report Issues

Dial 311

NYC 311, the chief source of government information and emergency services, is the best way to get legal counsel in the city. To report issues, call 311 and ask for the 'Tenant Helpline.' You can even reach them via text (311-692) or via their iPhone or Android apps.

Once you file an official complaint, it will get documented and filed with the New York City Department of Buildings (for safety violations and hazards). Sometimes, the Department of Housing and Preservation will send someone to inspect your apartment. They will also strive to remedy this matter promptly. If your landlord fails to comply within the set time frame, they can issue a violation along with a heavy fine.

How To Report Issues To The State Authority

If your tenant disputes are related to improper maintenance and health concerns, you can report your landlord to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Alternatively, if your dispute deals with serious injury, you can contact an attorney and file a lawsuit. For example: slipping due to leaky pipes or getting hit with a collapsed ceiling. You may also address it towards the insurance carrier for your building to receive compensation for the value of losses suffered.

Report Housing Discrimination

According to Fair Housing NYC, you can legally report housing discrimination against you based on race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and other protected statuses.

Checklist For Dealing with Rental Issues

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  • [  ] Revisit your lease: Review what is covered under your New York tenant's rights and lease agreement.
  • [  ] Log your grievances: Document and maintain written evidence in the form of emails instead of phone calls so there is a written record.
  • [  ] State facts: Instead of focusing on the emotions of how the situation is impacting you, be clear and direct when you report your landlord.
  • [  ] Don't threaten to break your lease: And do not threaten to file a complaint against your landlord unless you have the means and intention.

Finally, remember that even the most court proceedings can drag on for several months. So when reporting a housing issues, make sure you are thoroughly prepared!