Before the Violence Starts

Services for Real Estate Pros with Avalon Real Estate Agency

Tenant Law.  Let me first state that I am not a lawyer and can offer no legal advice.  But what I will offer is a few tips on keeping the peace between you and the landlord.  The information below pertains to normal buildings and not disputed properties that are under undue distress to get rid of tenants inorder to sell. If your dealing with a major problem in NYC the try  or dial 311 and ask for help.

When you rent an apartment in New York City (and most other places) you sign a lease and in turn you should receive keys to a vanilla shell, reasonably clean apartment with all appliances and doors, windows and locks functioning properly.  If there is any concern about any of the above items, do a walk-thru of the apartment before you sign the lease.

The day you move in (or a day before) bring a camera and document the condition of the hallways and the apartment.  A banged up elevator, or wall could come out of your pocket. Document the interior of the apartment with a newspaper showing the date in a few of the photos.

When problems arise make sure you document the problem, date, time etc in writing to the super and the landlord / management company.  A simple non aggressive memo style letter is better than a certified 4 page thesis on why your toilet is stopped up. Understand that the Super's at most building don't make much money so slipping a $20 when the take care of something for you will go miles.  Be respectful to your Super and his family and try to let him know about things at a reasonable hour (8am - 7pm).

If the problems mount and there is no response or little action from the landlord then the inevitable happens, you hold back the rent. This is where most renters cut their own throats.  If the case comes before a judge and he rules for the issue to be fixed, you will still owe the back rent. Oh and once that court case happens in New York City at least, you become a pariah to your next landlord and when they do the background check it will pop up in court records, odd of you getting that new apartment are very slim to none.

So what do you do?  Take the rent money to your bank and open an Escrow account for the sole purpose of paying your rent.  If this is a 3-6 month drawn out fight, keep paying your rent to the escrow account.  When you enter the realm of the court system you will be expected to provide documentation of all communication between the landlord / management team / super. Do not have discussions in the stairwell or sign anything with out some form of council.  Legal aid has low cost lawyers to help you. The judge will see that you have been responsible and are willing to pay your rent and live up to your half of the lease.  This places you in so much better a position to negotiate a settlement. If at all possible express your desire to have the issue resolved without a court judgment.  They know the deal and should work with you.  

Below is the Tenant's Bill of Rights, while important they are never an excuse to be a bad neighbor.  Repairs may take a few days, people have bad days and stuff happens. Give your landlord a fair chance to correct problems. 

As a renter these are your basic rights. 

Tenant's Bill of Rights

  • To have hot water in the kitchen and bathroom 24 hours a day.
  • Between October 1st to May 31st of each year to have heat at 68•F from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day and the right to have heat at 55•F when external temperature drops to 40•F from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day.
  • To have repairs.
  • Extermination of your apartment. Landlord should post time when exterminator will come.
  • To be free of mildew or mold.
  • To have windows that properly open and close.
  • A paint job at least every three years
  • To know that your security deposit is safe, and not co-mingled with the landlord's money and to know the bank where the security is deposited.
  • To organize, join and participate in a tenants association which can meet in the lobby of the building (RPL 230).
  • To sue your landlord for breach of warranty of habitability. CRPL 235(b).
  • All common areas of the building are kept in proper repair and presentable.

Comments (1)

Gary McAdams
GMAC Schwartz Property Sales - Key West, FL
Landlord tenant disputes can get ugly.  I have had to do a few evictions and nobody wins.  Let the lawyer and the police handle that one.  Not for me.
Jan 11, 2008 01:26 AM