Residential Tenancy in New York State: Landlord Obligations and Tenants’ Rights
by Ryan Pezzulo, Esq.
Attorney at Trainor Law PLLC
The New York State legislature recently drastically overhauled the fundamentals of the landlord-tenant relationship when it enacted the “Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act” last year. These sweeping reforms have greatly bolstered tenants’ rights and have completely changed the obligations incumbent upon landlords. This is an overview of our understanding of the new law as landlords, tenants and the courts navigate the newly enacted procedures.
Eviction Procedures and Conditions Precedent to Removing a non-paying Tenant (RPAPL §711 et. seq.)
Under the old procedure, landlords were required to give non-paying or delinquent tenants three days’ notice to pay or vacate the premises as a condition precedent to bringing an eviction action. The new procedure has done away with the three-day notice in favor of a fourteen-day notice. This means that tenants in arrears must be given fourteen days written notice to pay the back rent before a landlord may legally commence an eviction action in court.
Moreover, the new law factors in a five-day grace period for late rent payments. This means that the landlord may not serve a fourteen-day notice until after the tenant is five days late on rent for that month. This allows tenants twenty days to pay rent that is in arrears before a landlord may initiate summary action for eviction. This is a drastic change for both tenants and landlords compared to the three-day window under the old procedure.
Lastly, the service requirements have changed. Previously, a landlord could not serve a tenant with an eviction petition more than twelve or less than five days prior to the scheduled court hearing. Now, landlords may not serve a tenant more than seventeen or less than ten days prior to the court hearing.
Practically speaking, this means that the case will not be heard by the court until at least thirty days, if not more, from when the rent was originally due. This allows tenants a great deal of time make good on the arrearage.
Prior to the implementation of new procedural requirements, landlords could reject rent payments made after the initiation of the eviction action. This meant that landlords did not have to accept payment if the formal procedural requirements were met and the tenant could be subjected to eviction and monetary judgments even if the tenant appeared in court and offered to pay what was owed.
Now, the tenant has an absolute right to pay the arrearage owed through the date that the sheriff serves an eviction warrant for removal from the property. This means that a tenant in default can still avoid eviction if payment is made prior to the execution of the warrant. Practically speaking, this could be two or more months after the initial missed payment that precipitated the eviction action and weeks after a court’s determination in favor of the landlord.
Application Fees, Charges and Deposits
Application fees were commonly imposed by landlords on prospective tenants; however the legislature has determined that this practice was overly burdensome on potential tenants. Landlords may now only charge an application fee equal to the cost of conducting a credit and background check, or $20.00, whichever is less. This fee may only be imposed if applicants are provided with a copy of the results of that inquiry and a receipt or invoice for the charge. Also, if the potential tenant provides the landlord copies of a credit and background check conducted within thirty days prior to the application, then the landlord must waive the application fee – even if it conducted a background or credit check itself.
Under the old law, landlords had discretion to set a security deposit in any amount (e.g. two months’ rent or “first and last” months’ rent in advance). Now, security deposits must not exceed the value of a single month’s rent. Moreover, once a tenancy ends, the landlord must return that money within fourteen (14) days, along with an itemized statement showing the basis for any charges for repairs and/or cleaning costs.
Late fees or other breach-related fees were also discretionary and set by the landlord. However, now landlords may only impose a single fee for a late rent payment per month, which may not be assessed until five (5) days after the monthly rent is due and payable. In no event may that charge exceed $50.
Failure to comply with these fee and deposit requirements can subject a landlord to liability. If the landlord is found to have willfully violated the law, punitive damages, which may amount to twice the amount of the deposit, may be assessed.
Nonrenewal/Increased Rent Notices
Under the new law, if a landlord does not plan to renew a lease or intends to increase the rent by more than five percent, the tenant must be notified in a timely manner. If that lease agreement was for less than one year, the landlord must give thirty days’ written notice of an intent to terminate the lease or increase rent. If that agreement was for at least a year but less than two years, the landlord must give sixty days’ written notice. If that agreement was for two years or more, the landlord must provide ninety days’ written notice.
If the landlord does not adhere to these notice requirements, then the tenancy will continue under its original terms.
Duty to Mitigate
Previously, a landlord had no obligation to make any accommodations for a tenant who terminated the lease early. The tenant was obligated to continue remitting monthly rent payments through the term of the lease even if the premises was unoccupied. However, under the new law, if a tenant wishes to vacate prior to the expiration of the lease, a landlord must take steps to mitigate its damages. This means that the landlord, in good faith, must take reasonable steps to rent the premises to another tenant. If the landlord executes a lease with a new tenant, the former occupant is not required to make any additional rent payments and there are no fees or penalties that can be assessed by the landlord for early termination.
Please note that the procedures outlined herein under the new legal framework are new and the implications of these procedures are playing out in real time. This article is just a summary of some of the main points of this new law and is by no means an exhaustive list of the obligations and rights of residential landlords and tenants. The effects of these changes are being felt by landlords, tenants, courts, process servers and sheriff departments alike as all participants must be vigilant of the procedural timeframes to protect the rights of both tenants and landlords within this process.
This article is intended to be educational and is not intended to be legal advice, which can only be given after an attorney-client relationship is established.