New Housing Stability & Tenant
Protection Laws in New York State:
5 Facts Every Landlord Needs to Know
On June 14, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the “Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019”. While the majority of the changes included in this bill are specific to New York City’s rent-controlled tenants, a number of changes will have a significant impact on every New York landlord, both in your obligations to your tenants during their occupancy and in the process of evicting them.
The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 will affect the way that you run your business and, if you’re not careful, may result in further liabilities and obligations of which you may not be aware. All landlords should start adhering to the new rules immediately. As such, it is highly beneficial to have an attorney who has up-to-date knowledge about your rights, your obligations, and how to create a process that avoids unnecessary delays and costs to you. With an attorneys’ help, you can avoid the pitfalls of improperly vetting applicants, violating rent guidelines, and illegally evicting tenants. We believe that some of these new laws will be changed yet again, and that all landlords should consult an attorney to review their lease agreement, processes, and all eviction matters.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Tenants Must Receive More Notice of Potential Eviction
The amount of notice that your nonpaying tenants are entitled to has been increased from 3 days to 14 days. Also, under the new law, tenants must be given 10-17 days’ notice of any eviction hearing, instead of 5-12 days. Tenants will also have 30 days to cure any violations instead of 10 days.
When serving a notice to quit or commencing an eviction under these new notice requirements, be careful none of the following factors exist, or the Court may find you have retaliated against your tenant:
- The tenant filed a good faith complaint with the government, the landlord, or the landlord’s agent based potential violations of health and safety law, any code and regulation, or warranty of habitability.
- The tenant took good faith action to secure its rights under the lease or rental agreement or warranty of habitability.
- A tenant’s participation in activities related to the tenant’s organization.
Landlords will now have to pay attorneys’ fees and costs for violations of this section.
Landlords also are now required to attempt rental of a tenant’s unit to someone else to mitigate your damages, at a price equal to the rate agreed to or fair market value (whichever is lower). Any lease provision waiving this right will be considered void. Importantly, the renting of the premises to a new tenant automatically terminates the lease and mitigate damages otherwise recoverable, such as accelerated rent or fees.
2. Tenants Will Have Greater Recourse in Eviction Proceedings
Once your eviction gets into Court, the judge may now stay your eviction for up to 1 year (previously 6 months) if a tenant can’t find similar housing in the same neighborhood after a reasonable search. Courts are now able to consider the effects of eviction on the health of the occupants, a child’s consistent enrollment in local schools, or other extenuating life circumstances affecting relocation or quality of life. If any of these factors apply, the Court may reject the eviction entirely. Tenants must continue to pay rent during the duration of their tenancy.
Full payment of rent at any point prior to the hearing will now render the proceeding moot. Payment of rent in full at any time prior to the issue of a warrant of eviction allows the Court to stay the proceedings, and full payment after the issuance of a warrant mandates vacating that warrant, unless there was bad faith.
3. Security Deposits, Application Fees, and Late Fees Are More Strictly Limited
As a landlord, you will now be limited in your ability to collect and retain tenant security deposits. Security deposits are now limited to an amount equal to 1 month’s rent. Security deposits must be returned unless withheld to pay rent, fix damages beyond normal wear and tear, or pay for movement and storage of tenant’s possessions. Additionally, tenants have the right to be present at an inspection prior to vacating as long as the tenant provided more than 2 weeks’ notice of termination. If you do not provide a written statement breaking down any retention of your tenant’s deposit within 14 days of their vacating the premises, you will forfeit your right to keep any of it.
Application fees are also now limited to $20 and late fees are capped at 5% of monthly rent or $50, whichever is lower. The application fee limitation includes any fee paid for a background check. These fees must also be waived if the tenant brings a copy of their own credit check or background check conducted within the last 30 days. You may not collect this fee unless the tenant is offered a copy of the credit check and/or background check, along with a receipt or invoice from the actual entity conducting it.
4. Rent Increases are Limited and Notice Requirements are Increased
You are now required to give notice when raising rent more than 5% or when you elect not to renew a lease. If your tenant has less than a one-year lease, a 30-day notice is mandatory. A 60-day notice is required for tenants who have lived, or have a lease for, an apartment for more than one year, but less than two years. Tenants who have lived in your unit for more than two years must get a 90-day notice. Rent increases due to capital improvements are also capped at 2% and the increases made based on those improvements must be removed from the rental calculation 30 years after the date of the increase.
If you are the landlord of a mobile home park, you are now limited to increases of 3% for rent or 6% if the increases are justifiable due to documented increases in operating expenses, property taxes, or capital improvements. Tenants may now challenge the increase though, and may join in the same action to do so, within 90 days. In determining the challenge, the Court may consider the adverse impact on a tenant’s ability to pay the increased amount. Additionally, mobile home owners cannot request attorneys’ fees from tenants until a Court order authorizes such.
5. Researching a Prospective Tenant’s Rental or Court History, or Locking Out a Tenant, May Result in Fines
As a landlord, you are now precluded from considering a potential tenant’s rental history or pending Court actions considering accepting an application, meaning that tenant blacklists are now illegal. There is a rebuttable presumption of a violation if you refuse to lease and are found to have requested information from a tenant screening bureau or even looked at Court records related to the tenant. The attorney general may bring an action and fine landlords $500-$1,000 for each violation of this subsection.
Additionally, it is now a misdemeanor for you to unlawfully or forcibly evict tenants, or to lock out tenants illegally, with fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation. This includes use or threat of force, interference with comfort, repose, peace, or quiet use of occupancy, or any conduct intended to prevent the lawful use of occupancy. If you fail to take all reasonable efforts to restore the tenant to occupancy in a dwelling unit within the same dwelling where the eviction was unlawful, a fine of up to $100 per day may apply.
Understanding the Local Impact: Rochester, New York
Housing affordability and housing stability have a larger systemic impact. In Rochester, New York, housing affordability is an ongoing issue. The federal government considers housing costs of 30% or more of gross monthly household income as the threshold for affordability. Accordingly, renters paying more than 30% of their monthly income in rent are more likely to struggle paying for other basic needs. Rochester’s relatively low median income ($32,300 compared to $55,000 for the region) and comparatively high median monthly rent ($810 compared to $800 for Canandaigua, $760 for Batavia, and $740 for Geneva) is a major factor in the City of Rochester being less affordable than any city in the region, the state, and the nation with rent consisting of 43% of household income. The provisions of the new law are intended to stabilize the housing market, so that residents can shop, eat, and play locally, investing back in the same communities that they live and work in.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.
Vivek Thiagarajan is an attorney who focuses his practice on litigation, corporate and not-for-profit law. Vivek represents both plaintiffs and defendants in actions involving contractual breaches, including nonpayment and employment issues, landlord tenant disputes, premises liability, qui tam investigations, and personal injury matters. Vivek can be reached at email@example.com or (585) 672-5500.