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TOP TEN LIST
What Every New Yorker Needs
to Know About Rental Housing

One -- Types of Housing -- New York City's rental market is very diverse, and includes many rent regulated and subsidized apartments, as well as unregulated "market-rate" apartments. [More on the rental market]
Two
-- Rent Stabilization -- It's important to know if the apartment you move into is rent stabilized. [More on importance of rent stabilization]

Three
-- Affordable Housing -- It can be found if you have the time to look. [More on how to find affordable housing]
Four
--Fees -- Be careful about the fees you pay. [More on fees]
Five
-- Leases -- Leases are important -- get a lease and read it carefully. [More on leases]
Six
-- Roommates -- State law allows you to have a roommate. If YOU are the roommate you have fewer rights -- be smart about sharing an apartment. [More on roommates]

Seven --Subletting -- You can sublet the apartment if you have to -- but following the correct procedures is essential. [More on subletting]
Eight
-- Maintenance -- Proper maintenance of the apartment is your landlord's responsibility, but there are limits. [More on maintenance]
Nine
-- Security Deposit -- You can get information about your security deposit.
[More on security deposits]
OneZero
-- Tenant Responsibilities -- Find out about your responsibilities as a tenant and work with your landlord to resolve problems -- it will usually pay off in the long run.
[More on communicating with your landlord]

What Type of Housing is Available in the New York City Rental Market?

Available rental housing in New York falls into three main categories: market-rate housing, rent regulated housing, and subsidized housing. Rents and lease renewals in market rate housing are essentially matters to be negotiated between the landlord and tenant. In rent regulated housing, rent adjustments and lease renewals are regulated by law. In subsidized housing, rents may be directly or indirectly supplemented by various government programs and terms of occupancy are regulated by law.

Market-Rate Housing includes apartments which have never been regulated and apartments which have undergone deregulation. Vacant apartments in buildings with one to five units are generally not rent regulated. Vacant apartments renting for over $2,500 per month also usually fall within the market-rate class. (However, the deregulation of these apartments is subject to challenge by the new tenant.) Vacant units in co-ops and condominiums that are rented out by the unit owners are generally market rate rentals. Apartments in buildings rehabilitated or newly constructed after January 1, 1974 are not rent regulated unless the owner has taken advantage of special tax abatement programs known as the J-51 and 421-a programs. There are a number of exceptions to these generalizations.

Rent-Regulated Housing includes both "rent controlled" and "rent stabilized" apartments. Newcomers need not concern themselves with rent control since rent controlled apartments either "go to market" or fall under rent stabilization upon vacancy. Thus, there is no such thing as a vacant rent controlled apartment. About half of all the two million apartments in the city fall under rent stabilization. Over 100,000 of these units become vacant each year. If the lawful rent exceeds $2,500 per month, upon vacancy rent stabilized apartments are deregulated. If the rent is below $2,500, the vacant unit remains under stabilization. As a rule of thumb, if you are searching for a rent stabilized apartment, the building must have been built before 1974, have six or more apartments, and the new rent must be below $2,500 per month. Some rehabilitated and newly constructed buildings also fall under rent stabilization if the owner has received a tax abatement.

Subsidized Housing generally includes Mitchell-Lama housing, public housing and "Section 8" housing. Mitchell-Lama housing is middle-income housing with rents subsidized in part through tax abatements to the owners. Public and "Section 8" housing is reserved for lower income households. In public housing, tenants reside in buildings managed by the New York City Housing Authority. Under the Section 8 program, tenants receive vouchers for assistance with rents in private housing. The city and state also run a number of smaller scale housing subsidy programs. The various wait lists for subsidized housing in New York are often years long. Consequently, subsidized housing in an unlikely housing solution for those with an immediate need to relocate. For those who wish to buy or build their own homes, there are a variety of programs and various tax abatements and exemptions are available through the City's Department of Housing Preservation & Development. New York City has a very diverse range of housing types:


Why Should I Find Out if My Apartment is Rent Stabilized?

If your apartment is rent stabilized, you have certain protections not guaranteed to other tenants, including:

1. Protection against unlawful rent increases. Rents under rent stabilization are adjusted annually by the Rent Guidelines Board. Additional increases for such things as major capital improvements or owner hardship may be permitted by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Other increases, such as vacancy allowances and increases for individual apartment improvements may be permitted by operation of law. All rent increases must have some basis in law or administrative order.

2. The right to renew your lease. In the absence of a specific legal justification for non-renewal, rent stabilized tenants must be given a lease renewal offer between 150 and 90 days before the expiration of the existing lease. A one or two year lease may be chosen by the tenant. In addition, the landlord may not evict the tenant except for various causes specified in the Rent Stabilization Code.

3. Other rights include such things as protections against decreases in service, and succession rights for family members and significant others. These rights are described in fact sheets on this site.

To find out if your apartment is rent stabilized, ask the landlord, broker or managing agent leasing the apartment. If you need to, look at our list of rent stabilized buildings and then call the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), at (718) 739-6400 to verify. Note that many buildings on our list contain apartments that have been deregulated due to high-rent/high-income deregulation; high-rent vacancy deregulation; expiration of tax benefits; and co-op conversion. If the apartment is rent stabilized the landlord must attach a Rent Stabilization Lease Rider to your lease. The Rider outlines your rights and responsibilities under the rent stabilization laws and provides the previous rent for the apartment.

If your apartment rents for over $2,500 and has recently undergone high-rent vacancy deregulation, you may want to review a rental history for the apartment. Under local law, your landlord has a duty to provide information about the last legal rent and where to file a complaint. If your landlord has not provided such information, you may contact the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal to obtain a printout of the rent history for your apartment. If it appears that the increase to over $2,500 that you paid cannot be justified in terms of the prior rent, vacancy allowance and individual apartment improvements, you may file a rent overcharge complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Note, however, that if you are not the first market-rate tenant, and the increase you are concerned about occurred more than four years ago, your complaint may be time-barred by a four year statute of limitations.


How Can I Find Affordable Housing?

Make apartment hunting your life for a month or more. It could pay off in the long run. It is possible to find a lower-priced apartment but it takes time and persistence. Here are various methods that you can try:

Look Outside of "Core" Manhattan - Bear in mind that New York City has many housing sub-markets. If you are looking for moderately priced apartments, very little will be found in Manhattan south of 96th Street on the East Side and below 110th Street on the West Side. Nonetheless, parts of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, upper Manhattan and Staten Island offer more affordable apartments. The median rent for a newly vacant apartment in Core Manhattan is typically double that found in the rest of the city.

Word-of-mouth - Ask all of your friends and acquaintances in New York if they know of any reasonably priced apartments.

Walk Around - If you have time, pick out some areas where you want to live, look at our list of rent stabilized buildings and then visit some of them. Since most apartment buildings have the name of the super or management company posted in the lobby, you may find a contact and inquire about vacancies.

Community Organizations - Check with some of the neighborhood nonprofit groups (senior centers, community service agencies, etc.) in the area and see if they have listings or bulletin boards available.

Classified Ads - Local papers, many of which post their classified ads online as well and in print, are probably the best source of up-to-date information on the housing market. Unfortunately, citywide newspapers tend to be Manhattan-centric. If you are looking for housing in the other boroughs, check out the many community papers that are available.

Web Resources - There are many free and fee-based services that cater to your particular needs. Many allow you to search for apartments on their website. Some send you email messages when they find a place that fits your profile. Others specialize in roommate referrals, sublets, shares, and Bed & Breakfast accommodations.

Real Estate Brokers- Another strategy is to visit real estate brokers in the neighborhood in which you want to live, many of whom carry listings for rent stabilized properties. Although fees are charged, some brokers can be very helpful, especially if you have specific housing needs. Look in the Yellow Pages or online for a listing of brokers in the areas you want to search.

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Be Careful about the Fees You Pay

Generally, the fees you may be asked to pay for securing an apartment are legal. However, be careful not to be taken in by the occasional unscrupulous operator:

  • A real estate broker can charge a broker's fee for finding you an apartment. The amount of this fee is not set by law. In order to charge the fee the broker MUST actually find you an apartment.
  • An apartment referral service can charge a fee for referring apartments to you. However, the fee must be refunded (minus a $15 charge) if you don't find an apartment.
  • Neither a managing agent nor the owner of a rental building can ask you for a fee in order to rent an apartment. Such a demand is "key money" and is illegal. You can report the managing agent/owner to the NYS Attorney General's Office (Manhattan) if you have some solid evidence. It is doubtful whether a verbal demand would be sufficient to get the AG's office to investigate unless you have corroborating witnesses.
  • Finally, the owner/managing agent can charge an application fee. Typically, this fee is for checking your references, your credit rating, etc. The fee must bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of doing these things. While a fee of $150 may be reasonable, a fee of $1500 is more likely to be considered key money.

Why is a Lease Important?

Landlord and tenant relations are governed by statutes, administrative regulations, court decisions and the terms of individual leases. A lease is a contract which supplements or expands upon the rights and obligations prescribed by law.

A lease is particularly important for unregulated tenants. Tenants who are not protected by rent control or rent stabilization are considered "month-to-month" tenants unless they have a lease which specifies a longer term. Without a lease, unregulated tenancies may be terminated on as little as 30 days notice at the owner's sole discretion. Additionally, leases for unregulated tenants protect against unexpected rent increases during the term of the lease. Unregulated leases can be almost any length, but are typically one or two years.

Rent regulated tenants have tenure rights and cannot be evicted except for cause. Nonetheless, owners of rent stabilized buildings almost universally demand new tenants sign standard leases. Rent stabilized tenants have a right to choose one or two year leases.

It is important to note that many leases contain terms and conditions which have been displaced by statutes. Such matters as subletting, pets, evictions and services are heavily regulated by law. This is true whether the apartment is rent regulated or unregulated. Because of changes in the law, most leases contain one or more clauses that are no longer enforceable. It is therefore important to consult with a lawyer even if a lease provision appears clear on its face.


Are Roommates a Risk?

In today's tight housing market one way to make your income meet the rent is to have a roommate. While this can be an excellent way to find (and keep) affordable housing, here are some things you should know:

  • If you are the only person who has signed the lease, in addition to your immediate family, state law allows you to have one roommate (i.e. an occupant of the apartment who has not signed the lease). Your roommate's dependent children are also permitted. Any lease provisions disallowing a roommate (and dependent children) are illegal. If your lease originally had two or more tenants you may have an additional roommate or roommates provided that the total number of tenants and occupants (excluding occupant's dependant children) does not exceed the number of tenants on the original lease. For example, if three tenants signed the original lease and one moves out, you may have a roommate to replace the departed tenant.
  • If your apartment is rent stabilized, you may only charge your roommate(s) a "proportionate" share of your rent. A proportionate share is determined by dividing the legal regulated rent by the total number of tenants named on the lease and the total number of occupants in the apartment - not including the tenant's spouse, family members or the roommate's dependent children. For example, if you live with your spouse and two children and only your name is on the lease, and you have a roommate who has one child, only you and the roommate are recognized for the purpose of calculating a proportionate share of the rent. You may therefore charge the roommate up to 50% of the rent.
  • Check your roommate's background thoroughly. If you don't get along, and your roommate refuses to leave, you do have the right to evict your roommate. However, if the roommate refuses to leave, the ensuing eviction process could be both painful and expensive. Remember, until the eviction process is complete you may have to live with this person.
  • If you join someone as a roommate (i.e. your name isn't on the lease) another set of problems can crop up. In most instances, if your roommate (the leaseholder) leaves, you have no right to keep the apartment. The primary tenant might also decide to temporarily sublet to someone, in which case you will suddenly have a new housemate not of your choosing.
What precautions can you take?
  • If you are the leaseholder, be careful about choosing a roommate.
  • If you join someone as a roommate, try to find out as much as possible about the primary tenants' plans. Try to "get on the lease" if possible. If this isn't possible, your rights are very limited and your ability to stay in the apartment may be cut short at any time.

How Do I Sublet?

Under New York State law, a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse a request to sublet your apartment (if you have a lease and reside in a building with four or more units). This protection applies to both rent regulated and unregulated apartments.

If the apartment is rent stabilized, you can sublet for up to two years in any four-year period. If the apartment is not stabilized the sublet cannot extend beyond your current lease.

Subletting an apartment can be a very difficult and complex process. Do not undertake it lightly. You must be careful to:

  • Choose a subtenant who will pay the rent and not endanger your ability to return to the apartment.
  • Execute a sublease with your tenant.
  • Follow ALL of the necessary steps to win approval from your landlord for the sublet.

Failure to be careful about choosing a subtenant and seeking your landlord's permission can lead to financial loss and eviction from the apartment.

More information can be found in the Fact Sheet on Sublets (rent stabilized tenants) and the Tenant's Rights Guide.

The New York State Tenant and Neighbors Information Service has issued an excellent publication called "A Tenant's Guide to Subletting, Apartment Sharing and Succession." Call 212-608-4320 for more information.


Maintenance Issues

Under a provision of state law called the "Warranty of Habitability" tenants are entitled to an apartment fit for human habitation without any conditions endangering or detrimental to their life, health, or safety.

Consequently, all tenants, regardless of rent regulation status, are eligible to seek repairs and rent abatements for violations of this Warranty of Habitability. Note, however, that your landlord may not be responsible for the COST of repairs if the defects were due to your negligence or the negligence or abuse of someone else in your household. Regardless of whether the landlord or the tenant is ultimately liable for the cost of a repair or maintenance defect, the owner is obligated to keep the premises in good repair.

If your apartment has defects and needs repairs, we generally advise renters to follow the following steps, IN ORDER:

  1. Contact your super about the needed repair.
  2. If your super fails to respond and the condition is an EMERGENCY, such as a cascading leak, no heat or an imminent fire hazard, contact the Central Complaint Bureau of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development by dialing 311.
  3. In a non-emergency, if your superintendent or management company is not being responsive, and the repair has not been made in a timely manner, write a letter to the owner of the building detailing the problem and asking for the repair to be made by a certain date. If the super is simply lax about making repairs, this type of "prompt" to the owner may elicit action. Send the letter by certified mail and keep a copy in your files.
  4. If the letter does not bring a response, try to contact the owner in person or by phone. Let her know that resolving the problem is important and that if it is not resolved you will have to file a complaint with the authorities.
If the owner still does not respond you can do any (or a combination of) the following:
  • Make the needed repair yourself (or hire someone to do it) and deduct the cost from your rent. Be CERTAIN that the expense was necessary to correct a violation of the City's Housing Maintenance Code. Also, be careful to get bids for the work and to document both the needed repair and the costs.
  • Ask the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) for a housing inspection. Again, the number for complaints is 311. HPD can order the landlord to make repairs and/or fine the landlord. Bear in mind that HPD must prioritize inspections based upon the level of hazard involved. During the winter months much of the inspection staff is allocated to heat emergencies. Thus, non-emergency inspections may take some time.
  • If your apartment is rent stabilized, file a decrease of service complaint with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the agency which administers the rent laws.
  • If your landlord persistently ignores serious conditions, you should consider filing an HP Action in Housing Court.

Know about Your Security Deposit

Virtually all leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one month's rent, and cannot be more than one month's rent in rent stabilized housing units.

The landlord must return your security deposit, less any lawful deduction, at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. A landlord may use the security deposit: (a) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the apartment is damaged; or (b) as reimbursement for any unpaid rent.

Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not CO-mingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. You must be informed in writing of the bank's name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to annual administrative expenses equal to 1% of your security deposit (not the interest earned). If there is any remaining interest earned on the deposit, it belongs to you. You must be given the option of having this interest paid out annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing account must also follow these rules.

[More information on Security Deposits].


Understand Tenant Responsibilities & Work with Your Landlord

The Rent Guidelines Board receives thousands of email messages (ask@nycrgb.org) about tenant-landlord disputes. We find that many tenants are far too quick to file a complaint with a government agency or sue in court before trying to work with their landlord. This can be unproductive for both the tenant and the landlord.

If you have a problem with your apartment, keep the following things in mind:

  • Understand the law - Don't automatically assume that the other party is at fault. As a tenant, you need to be aware of your responsibilities under the law; also keep in mind that landlords are only required to provide the services explicitly stated in your lease and under the housing laws. If your apartment is rent stabilized, you have additional rights and responsibilities. [More information].
  • Communication is important! - Make sure that your landlord knows about the problem and its level of severity. Remember, owners of rental buildings may have employees who fail to deliver messages and superintendents who may shirk their responsibilities. The landlord (or his/her managing agent) must know exactly what the problem is, how serious it is, and how it should be addressed.
  • Proceed slowly - If your landlord or managing agent is not responsive, the best policy is to slowly escalate the level of your complaints. Don't rush to file a complaint or a lawsuit. For a good example of this policy see the section on maintenance on this page.
  • Try to solve the problem before filing a formal complaint - Before you file a complaint with a government agency or go to court, try to work things out with your landlord, or if this is impossible, try to find another route such as mediation. Legal solutions can be quite complicated, time-consuming, and potentially very expensive. One way of getting what you want and avoiding the hassles of Housing Court is mediation, where a neutral third party hears both sides of a disagreement and helps develop solutions that meet everybody's needs. The following Community Mediation Centers provide free mediation services:
    1. Queens Community Mediation Services (718) 523-6868
    2. Staten Island Community Dispute Resolution Center Program (718) 815-4557

Remember, government agencies are often understaffed and overwhelmed by their caseloads; courts and lawyers can also be very expensive and time-consuming. Filing a complaint may not be the quickest or most satisfactory way to resolve your problem. Of course, if you have made reasonable efforts to resolve your problem and no progress has been made, complaints to an administrative agency or court proceedings may be necessary. Although inconvenient and time consuming, the law does ultimately resolve landlord / tenant disputes.

RGB Page Updated 8/25/2011

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DISCLAIMER: The New York City Rent Guidelines Board does not own or rent apartments. Furthermore, this Apartment Guide is not meant to be a complete listing of housing resources, nor are we endorsing the websites linked to this guide. Unless otherwise indicated, we are not responsible for any opinions or comments expressed here. If you have any questions, suggestions, please contact us at ask@nycrgb.org.


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