On June 14, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“Act”). This Act will fundamentally change the New York City real estate industry and is considered the most significant tenant protection legislation ever passed by New York State. This Act directly affects property owners, property managers, and tenants for both regulated and unregulated units, inside New York City and throughout the State of New York. It creates numerous new protections for New York tenants, most of which are more stringent than federal protections that outline what a landlord cannot do.
Tenants’ Rights according to the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019
During the Application Phase, All Tenants have the following rights:
Background check and credit check fees are capped
Under the new law, landlords can now only charge for the actual cost of a background check and credit checks or up to $20 each. Currently, no other fees are permitted during the application process. Additionally, if a tenant can provide his or her personal background or credit check from a third party company, the landlord must waive the fee and accept the tenant’s reports.
The end of the dreaded “tenant blacklist”
The “tenant blacklist” is a list of tenants put together by private companies. These lists contained the name of tenants who have appeared on housing court proceedings, regardless of whether or not the tenant ultimately prevailed in the case. These companies used to sell this information to landlords. Then, landlords would turn around and use that information to unfairly reject tenants, many of which were low-income, elderly, or disabled tenants. However, the new law prevents landlords from referring to any variation of a “tenant blacklist,” when making its rental decisions. Under the new law, Landlords who are caught discriminating against tenants on the tenant blacklist risk being prosecuted and being issued a $1,000 fine.
You cannot be forced to deposit more than one month’s rent as security
The new law states that no tenants, including free-market tenants, will be required to remit more than one month’s rent for a security deposit. This law already applied to rent-regulated tenants. Previously, there was not a limit on security deposits for free-market tenants. This also applies to pet-security deposits, so your landlord cannot ask you for a one-month security deposit and an additional deposit for your pet.
If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment and you gave your landlord a two-month security deposit before the HTSPA came into effect, then you are entitled to a refund. However, if your rent is increased during the lease or you renew that lease at a higher monthly rate, you should know that the landlord can collect additional money to bring the security deposit up to the new rent.
Your rights as a tenant while occupying the apartment
Limitation on Late Fees
During your occupancy, your landlord cannot charge you late fees on rent until you’re at least five full days late paying. After five days, the landlord can charge you more than 5% of your rent or $50, whichever is cheaper.
You have the right to additional notice if your rent is increasing or if your lease is being terminated
According to the new law, if a landlord wants to terminate a tenant’s lease or raise a tenant’s rent by more than 5%, the landlord must give the tenant 30 days' written notice if the tenant has lived in the building for more than one year. If the tenant has resided in the building for two years or longer, the landlord must give 60 days’ notice. For tenants who have lived in their apartment for more than two years, or have a lease of two years or more, they must get a 90-day notice.
Tenants’ rights when they leave the apartment
More protections against retaliatory evictions
Retaliatory evictions occur when a landlord seeks to evict a tenant because they complained to a city agency or simply tried to exercise their rights as a New York City tenant. The new law extends the presumption of retaliation to one year (increased from six months). Additionally, the new law adds warranty of habitability claims as a ground for retaliatory eviction defense as well as a complaint by the tenant under the Housing Maintenance Code or the Multiple Dwelling Law’s duty to repair. Lastly, the new law holds the landlord’s agents as potential culprits to retaliatory evictions.
Tenants now have more time to find an apartment and move out if they are evicted
The new law gives evicted tenants a year to look for a new apartment provided the tenant can still pay ongoing rent. Senior citizens and disabled tenants cannot be evicted without good cause, and an unjust rent increase is no longer considered a good cause. Furthermore, A judge may now stay an eviction for up to one year, (rather than six months under the old law), if the tenant cannot find a similar dwelling in the same neighborhood after a reasonable search.
To that point, the court must also consider the tenant’s health condition, the tenant’s children and the effect of a child’s enrollment in a local school, as well as any other additional factors
Lastly, under the new law, landlords who forcibly and illegally evict tenants will now be subject to misdemeanor charges and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
Landlords now have a duty to mitigate damages
Under the new law, if a tenant breaks his or her lease for any reason, the landlord now has to mitigate damages. The Landlord must take reasonable and customary actions to rent the premises at fair market value, or the rate agreed to during the term of the tenancy.
Once the landlord finds a new tenant, the old tenant’s liability and lease are both terminated. However, the landlord can still sue former tenants for rent that they could not collect until the time a new tenant is found.
Additional Protections Specifically for Rent-Stabilized & Rent Controlled Tenants
Owner use in rent-stabilized units are now limited
In the past, landlords commenced what is called an “owner use” holdover proceeding as a way to recoup occupied rent-stabilized units, use them as residences for some time and take them off the market, with the eventual goal of raising the rent. However, under the new law, landlords can only recoup one “owner use” apartment to use as their primary residence for themselves or their families.
No more colossal rent increase after the landlord performs building improvements
Formally, landlords could make renovations to individual apartments or building improvements that benefited tenants in rent-regulated buildings and could increase tenants' rents up to 6% to pass along the cost of those renovations. However, the new law now limits these rent increases to 2%.
Your Rent Regulated Apartment will more than likely remain Regulated permanently
The new law repeals high rent vacancy and high rent, high-income deregulation. The prior law permitted deregulation of apartments where the rent exceeded the threshold for deregulation upon vacancy or where the tenant’s income and rent exceeded the limits established in statute. Now regulated apartments will remain under New York State rent regulation system, regardless of the monthly rent amount or the tenant’s income
Preferential Rents are now permanent
The new law provides that any tenant currently being charged monthly rent charges less than the legal, regulated rent (“preferential rent”), that amount now becomes the base rent upon lease renewal, subject to applicable Rent Guidelines Board rates. In contrast, the prior law permitted owners to raise the preferential rent to the legal rent upon the renewal of a lease term.
Rent Overcharge Claims Statute of Limitations has been extended
The new law extends the statute of limitations for overcharge claims brought by tenants from four (4) to six (6) years. Additionally, the new law enforces treble damages for all six (6) years. Expressly, the law permits tenants to file an overcharge claim “at any time” but explicitly limits liability for rent overcharges to six (6) years from the date the tenant files a complaint.
Rent Stabilization Coverage is now expanded throughout New York State
The new Law extends rent stabilization coverage to all counties within New York State, where local legislatures determine that an emergency exists, which is generally defined as an average vacancy of less than 5%.
Fuel Cost Adjustment
The new law now prohibits the costs of fuel to be passed along to tenants and modifies the rent increase formula from 1972 for rent-controlled tenants. Increases to rent-controlled units now will be based upon the average of the last five (5) one-year renewal lease increases adopted by the Rent Guidelines Board. The prior law permitted annual increases of up to 7.5%.
Cooperative and Condominium Conversions
The new law repealed the ability of building owners to convert occupied residential buildings to cooperative or condominium ownership pursuant to an eviction plan. Now, under the new law, 51% of tenants in occupancy must have subscription agreements or purchase agreements signed in order to convert a building to a cooperative or a condominium. (Up from 15%). Practically, this will result in very few, in any, cooperative or condominium conversions.
Rights that remains unchanged under the new law
The Right to the Return of Security Deposit in a Reasonable Time
Under New York State law, a landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized receipt and return the tenant’s security deposit within “a reasonable time” after the tenant has vacated the property. The courts have typically held that reasonable can mean anywhere from 21-45 days.
You’re entitled to know the history of your rent-stabilized apartment
If you’re living or planning to move to a rent-stabilized apartment (lucky you!), then you should make sure that you won’t be the victim of an artificial rent increase. Landlords of such apartments are obligated by law to register the properties, along with their rental history and rent increases over the years. A prospective or live-in tenant has the right to request access to that information at any time through DHCR.
If, after getting your history, you realize that your landlord has been overcharging you, you can file a complaint with the same institution to possibly get a refund on that amount. You have six years to claim an overcharge, according to the new rent laws; before 2019, tenants had only a four-year window to file this type of complaint.
Warranty of Habitability
According to New York Real Property Law 235-B, there is an implied warranty of habitability in every lease, which requires that landlords keep tenants’ apartments safe, comfortable, and in a livable state. Specifically, this covenant requires that the landlord maintain residences so that they are fit for human occupancy, that all things work as expected, and that no conditions in the apartment exist that may kill or hurt the tenant. Some of the common conditions that New York City tenants may experience include but are not limited to; are mold, pest infestations, broken elevators, missing or broken smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, and missing window guard (for tenants with kids under 10). If any of the above conditions are untrue, a tenant may have the right to commence a case against the landlord and be entitled to a rent deduction until the repairs are addressed.
The Right to a Roommate
In New York City, you can generally get roommates without getting your landlord’s approval or going through the hassle of adding them to your lease, thanks to a law commonly called the New York State “Roommate Law.” The Roommate Law applies not just to relatives but also non-relatives such as a boyfriend or girlfriend. Moreover, The Roommate Law applies to not only New York City but also the entire state.
Your landlord must notify you of any past of current bedbug issues
Many people don’t know this, but according to New York City law, landlords must alert any potential tenants of bedbug-related issues, either current situations or pest infestations over the past year. This doesn’t only apply to your own apartment; the landlord must inform you of such issues happening anywhere in the building. A situation like this qualifies as a class B (hazardous) building code violation, according to the HPD, which means that the owner has 30 days to solve any problems related to bedbugs. Otherwise, you can file a complaint against them.
You have the right to be notified of any renovation or repair work
Over the years, things will break around an apartment, or outdated equipment will give out and need to be replaced. The landlord is obligated to provide maintenance and repairs, but they also need to let you know about it beforehand. The apartment owner has an obligation to notify you of any intended work and to try to arrange access on the property when you are available. You’re to receive this notification at least eight days prior to the requested access date. Also, the landlord cannot ask you to vacate the premises during renovations; you only have to move if so ordered by a government agency or a court of law.
You have the Right to a Peaceful and Undisturbed Environment
As a tenant in New York City, you have the right to ‘peaceful possession’ of the apartment. This means you don’t just have to accept the actions of your neighbors that affect your wellbeing. If your neighbors are loud, or there are certain smells that move from their apartment to yours, or, knock on wood, they have a pest infestation that migrates to other units, you have the right to contact the landlord and ask for assistance.
You have the right to information and legal representation
If you’re currently facing issues with your landlord or you feel that your rights as a NYC tenant aren’t being respected, then you might benefit from speaking with a legal representative who knows the ins and outs of the market.