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Leases - General FAQ

See also Leases-Renewal & Vacancy FAQ's


Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

In addition: The NYS Homes and Community Renewal's Office of Rent Administration (DHCR) also offers useful information on their Web site, with special web pages for both owners and tenants, as well as their own FAQ page.


What is the purpose of a lease and what is a standard lease form?

A lease is a contract between a landlord and tenant which contains the terms and conditions of rental. The vast majority of leases are written, although oral rental agreements can occur. The terms of all leases are fully negotiable, although vigorous negotiations are difficult where vacancies for affordable housing are scarce. Occasionally, riders are added governing such things as pets, use of washing machines or permission to make minor alterations. Generally, leases cannot be changed while they are in effect unless both parties agree. In unregulated buildings, a rental without any agreement as to the term is considered a "month-to-month" tenancy which is terminable on 30 days notice.

In New York, most leases contain provisions which have been superseded or modified by statute. For example, a lease clause which prohibits subletting is no longer enforceable in most cases because subletting is governed by statute.

A "standard" lease form is usually a form produced by one of the companies that produce standard forms. For example, Julius Blumberg Inc. produces a variety of lease forms for various types of tenancies. In some cases lawyers groups or industry organizations, such as the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), may prepare drafts of "standard" agreements.

Rent stabilized tenants have the right to either a one- or two-year lease when they move into an apartment. If no lease is given and the apartment is rent stabilized or rent controlled, the tenancy is governed completely by statute and common law rules.

Written leases must use words with common and everyday meanings and must be clear and coherent. Sections of leases must be appropriately captioned and the print must be large enough to read easily. If the type is too small or the lease is unclear, it may not be enforceable by the party who drafted or supplied it.

Unless the lease states otherwise, the apartment must be made available to the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy. If the apartment is not available when agreed, the tenant has the right to cancel the lease and obtain a full refund of any deposit.


In addition, rent stabilized tenants are also required to receive a "Rent Stabilization Lease Rider For Apartment House Tenants Residing In New York City" (DHCR Form RA-LR1), and, if a lease is being renewed, a "Renewal Lease Form" (DHCR Form RTP-8), both available on the DHCR Web site.

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What are my options if I want to get out of my lease early?

First, ask your landlord if s/he will let you out of the lease. Landlords are sometimes willing to accept vacancies - especially if it will lead to a rent increase.

If your landlord refuses to let you out, you can ask the landlord if you can "assign" the lease. This means that you would have to find a new tenant. The landlord can refuse to do so, but if his/her refusal is unreasonable s/he must release you from the lease in thirty days upon your request.

For more information see the "Subletting and Assigning Leases" section of the NY State Attorney General's Tenant's Rights Guide.

Generally speaking, if you break your lease the landlord can claim part or all of your security deposit for "unpaid rent." S/he could also go to court to enforce the terms of the lease (i.e., ask you to pay additional rent until a new tenant is found). Under current rulings, landlords have no duty to promptly re-rent the apartment.

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I signed a lease and the apartment is not ready to move into. What can I do?

Unless the lease states otherwise, the apartment must be made available to the tenant on the beginning date of the tenancy. If the apartment is not available when agreed, the tenant has the right to cancel the lease and obtain a full refund of any deposit.

For assistance, contact the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. For legal advice, see our Legal Services web page. In addition, the following tenant groups can offer advice:

  • Met Council on Housing (212) 979-0611
  • Tenants and Neighbors (212) 608-4320

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Can you have more than one stabilized lease?

Under the rent stabilization law, a tenant in a rent stabilized apartment must maintain the unit as his/her primary residence. The primary residence provisions of the law were enacted to make sure that tenants did not take advantage of the regulatory system.

If you are subletting the extra apartment, you may be subject to eviction. For information on subletting, see our FAQ on Subletting. If you are not a primary resident, the landlord may refuse to renew your lease. Additionally, see our Primary Residence FAQ section.

Finally, it is not unlawful per se to rent two stabilized apartments. Many people rent more than one apartment because of space requirements. However, in these situations the apartments are usually adjacent (or at least in the same building) and thus are considered to be a single "primary residence." It is not uncommon for married couples to maintain two separate rent regulated residences.

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Can the landlord demand a guarantor when I sign the lease?

If the landlord has not yet signed the lease, the lease is not executed and the landlord has the right to ask for a guarantor.

If this is a rent stabilized renewal lease the landlord may not impose new terms, and thus the landlord has no right to newly insist on a guarantor.

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My landlord never followed through on promised improvements. Where do I turn for breach of lease?

Your rights are defined by your lease and by state and local law. If the lease specifies the services or improvements and the landlord has not performed, s/he has breached a legitimate contract and you may demand damages or performance.

If the improvements simply concern amenities which do not effect the habitability of the apartment, you could sue the landlord for damages or to force him or her to abide by the terms of the lease. The court you choose will depend upon the amount of damages claimed and the type of relief sought. If the improvements concern habitability, you may seek an inspection to determine if there are housing code violations and you could sue for repairs in the "HP Part" of the Housing Court. If the improvements involve a service which has previously been supplied to the tenants of the building, you may want to consider filing a reduction of service complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

We suggest you obtain a consultation with a private attorney. For legal advice, see our Legal Services web page. In addition, the following tenant groups may provide advice:

  • Met Council on Housing (212) 979-0611
  • Tenants and Neighbors (212) 608-4320

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Does a tenant in a rent stabilized apartment have the right to add their spouse's name to the lease?

Yes. The tenant has the right, upon request to the owner, to have the name of his or her spouse added to the lease as an additional tenant, if the spouse resides in the apartment as a primary residence. There is no rent increase associated with this change, other than the approved renewal lease increase rates in effect at the time of renewal. If necessary, you may file a complaint with New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency which administers the rent laws.

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I don't have a lease, so I am a month-to-month tenant - What are the allowable rent increases?

You may want to double-check with the NY State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency which administers the rent laws, at 718-739-6400, to see if your apartment is rent stabilized. If you rent a stabilized unit, your landlord must offer you a lease. Your rent cannot increase until you receive a lease, and may only increase according to the annual rent guideline increases voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board. Information of rent increases can be found here.

If you are not a stabilized tenant, there is no limitation on the amount of rent increases. If you have no lease, or if your lease has expired, you are considered a "month-to-month" tenant. According to the NYS Attorney General's Office, a New York City landlord may raise the rent of a month-to-month tenant with the consent of the tenant. However, if the tenant does not consent, the landlord can terminate the tenancy by giving appropriate notice (Real Property Law ß232-b). Further details are available in the New York State Attorney General's Tenant's Rights Guide section on Month-to-Month tenancy.

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Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

RGB Page Updated 2/20/2014


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