How to Ensure Your NYC Landlord Doesn't Screw You Over

Published On 08/31/2016 Published On 08/31/2016
cockroaches nyc
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Renting an apartment in New York City is no small accomplishment -- if you’ve even gotten that far, we applaud you. But the headaches rarely end after the housing hunt does. A lot can (and probably will) go wrong during your lease. Cockroaches can move into your coffee machine, the 19th-century plumbing can give out, and you’ll very likely find your apartment at a finger-numbing 50 degrees in the middle of a snowstorm.

That’s why it’s important to know that there are local, federal, and state laws out there to protect you from even the most crooked landlord. And by studying your rights -- what you, as a renter, are entitled to have and to do -- you can save yourself a lot of grief.

Your favorite people can stay as long as they'd like

Renters can share their apartments with immediate family, children, and one additional occupant not on the lease -- meaning your landlord can’t say your guests are overstaying their welcome. Of course, if you were hoping we’d tell you this isn’t a renter’s right, feel free to lie and tell Mom and Dad they can’t come stay with you for the week.

The roaches (and bedbugs and house centipedes and giant sewer rats) aren't your problem

Insect infestations, including but not limited to the cockroaches that were included with the apartment when you moved in, are your landlord’s responsibility, not yours. So when your property manager tries to tell you he’s adding the exterminator bill to the monthly rent, you can confidently refuse to pay. Pest problems aren’t something your landlord can shrug off, either. It’s his or her legal responsibility to at least effectively control the problem. Because, let’s be honest, roaches have colonized the entire city, and they’re hell-bent on surviving all upcoming apocalypses.

A front door should be a literal fortress

Your landlord is required to outfit your door with a chain door guard to permit partial opening, as well as a peephole. Even though you’re pretty sure your roommate ordered from Seamless, there’s really no reason to throw your door wide open and welcome that person in without being positive.

It's your legal right to sublet -- but that doesn't mean it's your legal right to run an Airbnb

Landlords can’t automatically prohibit subleasing (in buildings with four or more units specifically), but you do need to ask for permission. And if your landlord says no, he or she had better have a pretty good reason (though the laws don’t clearly articulate what an acceptable reason may or may not be). If what you really wanted to know was whether or not you can turn your ancient Brooklyn apartment into a cool, pre-war vacation rental, keep this in mind: you can’t legally rent an apartment in a multiple-unit dwelling for less than 30 days, unless you’re offering just a room within your unit, and you plan on being there to supervise (read: babysit). In that case, feel free to set up your Airbnb profile immediately.

The rust you can live with. The black mold you can't.

It’s called “the warranty of habitability,” and it means you have the right to live in a place that’s sanitary and safe. If you don’t have heat in the winter, for example, you can sue for a rent reduction. If you’re suffocating on black mold, and your landlord has been saying it will be fixed “sometime next week” for the last three months, you can withhold rent until the problem is fixed.

If you didn't buy it, don't fix it

Landlords are responsible for fixing and maintaining the appliances they installed, such as the refrigerator and the oven. When your washing machine decides it’s had its last cycle, your landlord needs to see that it’s repaired or replaced.

Just kidding, this is New York City. You don’t have a washing machine.

Your landlord could owe you more than just your original security deposit

At the end of a lease, renters are entitled to get their security deposit back -- with interest, if it’s a building with six or more units (that’s when your landlord is required to deposit those checks into a New York bank account). And normal wear cannot be deducted from that amount. With that said, tenants should fully clear and clean the apartment, and make minor repairs (yes, that includes all those holes you put in the wall trying to hang floating shelves) to avoid incurring any charges. Unless you're best friends with your landlord, arrange a walk-through before you leave to ensure you’re on the same page.

But for the record, landlords have plenty of rights, too

Obviously, you can’t get away with absolutely anything. To be clear: with advance notice, your landlord has every right to come into your apartment, and it’s up to them to determine whether or not Fluffy can stay. But by knowing what power you do have in this relationship, you can typically avoid paying more than you need to. And in a city that thinks it’s totally cool to sell a hamburger for $150, every extra dollar and leftover MetroCard counts.

Still, if your landlord hasn’t done a thing about the broken deadbolt, the leaky faucet, or that black mold growing in your bathroom, it’s time to take things to the next level. Call 311 or submit a complaint online.

Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.

Melanie Lieberman has lived in two apartments where the bathroom ceiling completely caved in. For apartment grumbles and triumphs, follow her @MelanieTaryn.



Learn More