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Tenants' Rights and the Standard Rental Lease

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to tips@curbed.com. Up now, tenants' rights and the standard rental lease.

So many bits of information about NYC real estate are subjective. Check out the wording that summarizes your rights: "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," says the Rent Guidelines Board website. What the Warranty doesn’t cover is "things that are annoying." What if your bedroom door sticks a little? Or your neighbor’s recent foray into Mideastern cooking has been getting more an more intense? Join us as we delve a bit deeper.

The landlord is usually responsible for paying your heat and hot water, but not your electricity and cooking gas. They’re definitely not paying for your Internet! The Rent Guidelines Board is full of interesting tidbits about landlord responsibilities. For example, in the winter daytime, apparently, the heat in your apartment has to be at least 68 degrees, and at night, at least 55 degrees. ("Heating Season" is October 1 to May 31.) The more you know. They also have to provide a "Truth in Heating" set of bills from the last two years if requested.

Here’s a quick checklist on the affirmative:
1) Landlords are required to maintain electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, and ventilating systems and appliances landlords install, such as refrigerators and stoves, in good and safe working order.
2) Must protect against lead paint.
3) Must install high quality smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
4) Must provide locks for front doors and individual doors. Must also provide a peephole.
5) Must protect against rodents and bed bugs.

To read every beautiful word of the Tenant’s Rights Guide, feast your eyes on this, and to be blown away by the NYC Housing Maintenance Code, scoot over here.

Most landlords are willing to listen to your problems somewhat. If they don’t take care of many things within 24 hours, or if it’s an emergency, there are also steps you can take. Read a comprehensive list here.

If it gets nasty, consider options like housing court (as a very last resort). Here (Warning: PDF) is a Tenant’s Guide to NYC Housing Court, and How to Prepare for a Landlord-Tenant Trial. (Warning: PDF.) The NYS Division of Housing even has nifty forms for Tenants. Check out the newest one?Tenant’s Complaint of Owner’s Failure to Disclose Bedbug Infestation History. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Line by Line: Your Rental Lease
As long as you trust your landlord and have a solid relationship and oral agreement, you might as well have your lease written on a napkin. But this is New York and it would be prudent to at least write it out neatly on a standardized form. There are a couple of places to find standardized forms for NYC rentals, the most common being Blumberg.com and the Real Estate Board of New York website. According to the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, "A lease is a contract between a landlord and tenant which contains the terms and conditions of rental." Simple enough, eh? Let’s explore further.

Non-Stabilized Lease
Right here you can see a non-stabilized rental lease from the Blumberg website. The top is self explanatory, with contact and monetary information.

From there it goes to say that only the people on the lease can live there (another obvious one). A little less known (well, until the Times ran a story on it) is that a rarely enforced law prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in an apartment together. Of course, if your landlord is willing to take that risk, it’s his problem, not yours. Just make sure you practice your fire escape plan, alright, kids?

The second statement of the lease is that you can’t sue the landlord for not giving you the apartment on time. He has to give it in a "reasonable" time. Make sure you have your landlord’s word on this one. The third section says your rent has to be paid on the first day of the month. While this is obviously the best thing to do to remain under your landlord’s good graces, you technically have a couple days of leeway.

The lease goes on to say (in so many words) that the Tenant’s security deposit can be siphoned up by the Landlord if the Tenant doesn’t pay, what utilities the Landlord will pay, and basically not to overblow the circuits by putting in an air conditioner. Make sure the lease spells out what the Landlord is covering! You should take care of the appliances, don’t do any major renovations without consent, tell the Landlord about fires, yadda yadda.

The Landlord should have keys to your apartment, which can be great if you get locked out, but can be majorly creepy if you don’t establish boundaries that allow the landlord to come in with your permission. They are allowed to enter your apartment for emergency repairs, so you’re not completely isolated.

Random points:
·If the landlord wants to tear down the building, he can do so with six months notice. Huh.
·You can get a written notice for "annoying other tenants," and if you don’t stop being annoying in 10 days, your lease can be revoked.
·There is also a "short form" lease, which is written in "plain English," as it says.

Bottom line: read your lease! Cross out things that don’t make sense and initial them! Now onto the much more stable cousin of the Non-Stabilized Lease.

Rent Stabilized Lease
The only difference in the actual lease of any importance is the last item, entitled "Rent Regulations," where "This section applies if the Apartment is subject to the N.Y.C Rent Stabilization Law and Code or the Emergency Tenant Protection Act." The Rent Stabilized Lease comes with its buddy, the Rent Stabilization Rider.

Other Leases
There are some other options that might be better to go over with a broker or a professional. The lease of a condominium unit (seen here) would probably go through a broker as an exclusive listing. If something doesn’t apply to your specific apartment (like the item about having a terrace or balcony), make sure they cross it out!

You might also be renting from month to month. There’s a lease for that, too. Month-to-month leases can be terminated with 30 days notice.

Check out this FAQ for answers to a lot of random questions, including answers to questions about landlord responsibilities, rent increases, and even roommate issues.

· Renting 101: A Guide for Tenants and Landlords
· Scoping Out a Rental 'Hood and Getting Ready to Sign a Lease [Curbed]
· How to Not Get Screwed Over by a Rental Broker [Curbed]
· The Lucky Ones: Rent Control vs. Rent Stabilization [Curbed]
· Curbed University [Curbed]