If you are fortunate enough to have a good relationship with a responsive landlord, consider yourself lucky. It’s rare to hear about good tenant-landlord relationships, especially in high-demand areas such as NYC. More commonly, landlords are focused on getting the most rent possible for the least amount of service. Protecting yourself from ruthless, greedy landlords is essential to satisfaction with your tenancy.
Luckily, you are not at the whim of the landlord. It is possible to take steps to protect yourself and your apartment from a nightmare landlord. The Law Offices of Justin C. Brasch have helped hundreds of New York protect their tenancy rights.
1. Know your rights
Although it seems like the “chips” are stacked in the landlord’s favor, tenants do have rights. NYC has recognized the power that landlords have over tenants and has taken steps to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. Some little-known rights that tenants have are:
- Tenants cannot be evicted without a court process. That means you cannot legally be locked out of your apartment. You must be served court papers prior to an eviction. If the landlord attempts to evict you without first going to court, it is imperative to document everything (including your living expenses in the interim) and contact a tenant law attorney. The Court can require your landlord to reimburse you for up to three times the amount of any expenses as a result of an illegal eviction.
- You have a right to be protected from harassment. Ruthless landlords will do just about anything to get tenants to leave if they think they can make more money on a new tenant. This could be threatening or harassing actions to intimidate you to leave, repeated buyout offers, even after you refuse, or hiring someone to represent the landlord to bully you into leaving. All of these actions are illegal.
- You have a right to safe living quarters. Under the Warranty of Habitability, you have the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. Landlords must keep the building and individual units in good repair at all times. This right is implied in the lease; it cannot be waived. If the landlord breaches this Warranty, you have the right to seek rent reduction.
These are just a few of the rights that NYC tenants have to protect them from their landlords’ actions or inactions.
2. Review and understand your lease
One of your greatest protections comes in the form of your lease. The lease outlines more than just the amount of rent you’ll be paying every month. It is a contract that outlines both your and your landlord’s responsibilities and the terms of the rental. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless you both agree. Rent stabilized units must have written leases; other types of leases can be oral, but it is always good practice to get your lease in writing whether it is a rent-regulated unit or not. The lease must be signed by both parties to be in effect. Before you sign a lease, have it examined by a tenant law attorney. There are several provisions that landlords can sneak in that are not allowed. Examples include: exempting landlords from liability for injuries due to the landlord’s negligence or waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Justin C. Brasch will be able to spot illegal provisions in leases and can help you negotiate better terms.
3. Report harassment
As mentioned above, it is illegal for landlords to harass you for any reason. They cannot force you out of your unit or have you surrender your rights. Examples of harassment include:
- Not offering leases or lease renewals.
- Repeatedly offering you buyouts, even after you’ve refused.
- Unjustified eviction notices or self-help evictions like lockouts.
- Threats and intimidation, by themselves or a representative.
- Overcharging for a rent-regulated apartment.
- Failure to provide necessary repairs, services, or utilities.
If you are suffering any type of harassment at the hands of your landlord, report it and contact an attorney to represent you. You can report dangerous conditions or a lack of service through 311. Report issues of harassment to your attorney or a Housing Court. Report illegal evictions to the local police. The Law Offices of Justin C. Brasch have helped dozens of tenants get help from their landlord in these situations.
4. Document everything
Nothing protects you more than having documentation. Keep detailed notes of any harassing activity, disrepair, or complaints. The Housing Court and your attorney will find it extremely helpful if you ever need to go to court. Pictures and videos are also helpful and allowed as evidence. If you make requests to your landlord, make them in writing or keep a record of your verbal requests. In some cases, a rent abatement may be possible if there is a problem with your apartment’s conditions and the landlord fails to correct it within a reasonable amount of time, even after receiving notice of the problem.
5. Hire an attorney
You have a right to legal representation at all times. If you don’t understand your lease, consult an attorney. If you are being harassed or living in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, contact an attorney. If you have been illegally evicted, contact an attorney. A knowledgeable tenant law attorney will be able to advise you of your rights and responsibilities, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you in Housing Court. If your situation ever escalates to the point of going to Housing Court, you can bet your landlord will have an attorney – you should too.
Landlord-tenant law is very complex, especially in places like NYC where rent-stabilization is an issue. You need someone who is familiar with the law and landlords’ tricks to win your case. When your home is on the line, it is money well-spent.
6. Contact Brasch Legal
Brasch Legal has over 20 years of landlord-tenant and leasing law experience, including rent-stabilized leases and building code violations. Whether you need proactive assistance in understanding your lease or representation in dealing with a landlord we can help. Contact us at 212-267-2500 for a consultation.