What Every New Yorker Needs
to Know About Rental Housing
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]
Stabilization -- It's important
to know if the apartment you move into is rent stabilized. [More
on importance of rent stabilization]
It can be found if you have the time to look. [More
on how to find affordable housing]
Be careful about the fees you pay. [More
-- Leases --
Leases are important -- get a lease and read it
-- 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
You can sublet the apartment if you have to --
but following the correct procedures is essential. [More
-- Maintenance --
Proper maintenance of the apartment is your landlord's
responsibility, but there are limits. [More
Deposit -- You can get information
about your security deposit. [More
on security deposits]
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]
Type of Housing is Available in the New York City Rental Market?
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.
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. Note that there are a number of exceptions
to these generalizations.
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. Upon vacancy, if the lawful rent can exceed $2,500 per month, these rent stabilized apartments become 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.
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 (NYCHA). 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
many 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.
Should I Find Out if My Apartment is Rent Stabilized?
If your apartment
is rent stabilized, you have certain protections not guaranteed to other
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
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.
rights include such things as protections against decreases
in service, and succession
rights for family members and significant others. These
rights are described in DHCR fact
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.
Can I Find Affordable Housing?
hunting your life for a month or two. 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:
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 much of Manhattan and many neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Nonetheless, parts of the Bronx, Queens, eastern and southern 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.
Ask all of your friends and acquaintances in New York if they know of
any reasonably priced apartments.
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. However, keep in mind that while a building may contain rent stabilized units, they may not have any available for rent, especially where the typical asking rent is above $2,500 (the threshold for deregulation upon vacancy).
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.
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.
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.
to the Top
Careful about the Fees You Pay
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
- 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 and offer a lease.
- 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.
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.
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.
is a Lease Important?
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
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.
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.
Roommates a Risk?
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
- 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.
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.
Do I Sublet?
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
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.
an apartment can be a very difficult and complex process. Do not undertake
it lightly. You must be careful to:
a subtenant who will pay the rent and not endanger your ability to
return to the apartment.
a sublease with your tenant.
ALL of the necessary steps to win approval from your landlord for the
be careful about choosing a subtenant and seeking your landlord's permission
can lead to financial loss and eviction from the apartment.
can be found in DHCR Fact
Sheet #7 on Sublets (rent stabilized tenants) and the Tenant's
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.
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.
your apartment has defects and needs repairs, we generally advise renters
to follow the following steps, IN ORDER:
your super about the needed repair.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- If the
owner still does not respond you can do any (or a combination of)
- 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
- 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
- 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.
about Your Security Deposit
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.
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.
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.
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.
information on Security Deposits].
Tenant Responsibilities & Work with Your Landlord
The Rent Guidelines
Board receives many emails and calls
about tenant-landlord disputes. Sometimes, tenants and landlords are too
quick to file a complaint with a government agency or sue in court before
trying to work with the other party. This can be unproductive for both sides.
you have a problem with your apartment, keep the following things in mind:
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.