Some Questions and Answers About Landlord and Tenant Law

I have received several calls in the past couple of months with questions pertaining to landlord and tenant law.  I thought for my next blog entry that it would be a good idea to share what I know with my readers and you all a few pointers.  The names of the “clients” have been changed for privacy purposes but the questions and situations are genuine.  I hope the following will be helpful.

Sylvia Dorchester asked: I have lived in my apartment for the past six years and the walls are starting to get dirty.  I asked the landlord to paint but he said that I would have to pay for the paint and for the workers.  This was not something that was in the lease but a friend told me that I should be able to have them painted over again free of charge.  What do I do?

Answer:  The answer to this question will depend on whether you are in a rent controlled apartment or a rent stabilized apartment.  If you live in a rent stabilized apartment you have the right to have the walls of your apartment painted once every three years at the landlord’s expense.   If the landlord fails to paint the apartment your remedy is to apply for a rent reduction based on failure to paint as a decreased services argument.  However, if you live in a rent stabilized apartment you may be charged by the landlord to recover the cost of painting.  The landlord must first show that the painting is not an essential service.   If it has been shown that painting is an essential service the tenant can apply for a rent reduction based on decreased services.

Jennifer Brent asked:  I have a rent stabilized apartment and I was paying $1,500 dollars per month.  My lease term is almost up and I received a notice in the mail that states that I now have to pay about $2,300 every month if I want to renew.  Can the landlord make me pay that amount?

Answer:  In rent stabilized apartments the landlord has the option to charge a monthly rent that is well below what is called the legal rent, or the maximum amount that the landlord can legally charge for that unit.  In order to foster good will and keep tenants paying every month the landlord agrees to allow the tenant to pay rent at reduced rate.  The landlord can exercise his or her right to charge the legal rent but must first follow the proper procedure which means that you must be notified of the increase between 90 and 150 days before the end of the lease term.  If they do not do this you are entitled to renew the lease and pay the rate you originally paid.

Benjamin Taylor asked: I have been living with my mother in a rent stabilized apartment for the past three years and she recently passed away.  Can I stay in the apartment?

Answer:  In short, yes you can.  If you are a family member of the person who was originally named on the lease you may have the right to a renewal lease.  You are required to have lived with the primary tenant at least two years prior to the death of said tenant.  If you happened to be in a rent controlled apartment you would have protection against eviction and the lease would pass to you.  This is called succession rights.

Julie Brentman asked: I am a landlord of a six unit apartment building.  I have a tenant who has not paid his rent in almost three months.  When I call him and ask when he will be paying the back rent he states that it is in the works.   This is a family business and a way to get a minimal extra income and his delinquency is taking a dent out of my finances.  I have never had this problem before.  What can I do about it?

Answer:  Well, there are a couple of avenues that you can take but I would suggest that by this time you should go for the gusto and start an eviction proceeding against him.  It does, however, take some time.  He has to be properly be served a 30 day notice and then if he does not leave you have to start the actual eviction proceeding.  You will get a court date but again that may not see a judge for another couple of months.  The other route would be to give him notice that if he does not pay his back rent you will start proceedings against him in housing court to recover the rent he owes.

Unfortunately, the process for landlords is often frustrating and slow and you may not actually recover the money you are owed.  I have seen many landlords give tenants several chances to pay their back rent and after several months the amount owed just keeps piling up.  At that point the tenant is just staying in the apartment because they know the court process is very slow and they are buying more time.

Joshua Tan asked:  I recently got into a fight with my landlord over some issues in my apartment.  The ceiling in my bedroom leaks, the kitchen sink faucet does not work properly, the stove is broken and there are several other issues make the apartment unpleasant in general.  I know that the landlord has a duty to repair these things and he just won’t do anything about them.  When I call now, he curses at me and he hangs up and will not listen to me when I try to tell him the issues that are wrong with the place.  It has been about a month now.  What can I do?

Answer:  Your first course of action is to call 311 and have a housing inspector come out and assess the violations.  There are three types of violations that can be given based on the severity of the violations that the inspector finds.  First is the Class A violation which are considered non hazardous condition and the landlord has 90 days to correct it.  The Class B Violation is considered a hazardous condition and the landlord has 30 days to correct the condition.  The Class C violation is considered to be an immediate hazardous condition and the landlord has 24 hours to correct the condition.  If the landlord does not correct the conditions your next remedy is to withhold your rent and go to court to request a rent abatement on the grounds that your quiet enjoyment of the apartment has been violated.  Please note that if there are violations found, you must give the landlord access to the apartment to make the repairs within a reasonable time frame.