Disputes between landlords and tenants can be costly, time-consuming and stressful for every party involved. Not surprisingly, avoiding these disputes is a top priority for many landlords in New York City. Unfortunately, though, state and federal laws can leave property owners vulnerable to a wide range of landlord-tenant disputes . This makes it critical for landlords to understand the issues that commonly give rise to conflict and ultimately, litigation with tenants.
Legally required services
Under New York law, tenants have a right to a livable, safe and sanitary living space. Landlords are required to provide various services in furtherance of this right, including the following:
- Supplying heat and hot water
- Keeping heating, electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems in good order
- Taking reasonable precautions to protect residents from crime
- Remedying issues that render a space uninhabitable, such as vermin infestations
Landlords must provide these services even if tenants have signed a lease that says otherwise. However, landlords should note that they are not responsible for addressing habitability issues that arise from a tenant's own actions.
Many New York landlords must comply with rent control or rent stabilization programs, which limit what landlords may charge tenants. Landlords that are subject to these programs must provide necessary services and demonstrate that they have invested adequate money in improving the property. Disputes may arise when, among other reasons, landlords do not provide necessary services or exceed the legally prescribed rent limitations.
The rent control and rent stabilization programs also prevent landlords from evicting tenants without proper cause and from using harassment to drive tenants away. Landlords must avoid engaging in unjustified litigation, treating tenants abusively, misrepresenting the law or intentionally withholding services. Furthermore, to avoid disputes, landlords must be careful to only evict tenants based on well-documented, lawful grounds, such as the tenant's failure to pay rent.
Landlords may be more vulnerable to disputes with tenants when their agreements have not been thoroughly documented. In addition to having tenants sign a lease, landlords should put any subsequent agreements regarding services or rent in writing. Landlords should also keep records of all lease violations and complaints from tenants, along with other potential grounds for disputes.
Given the many causes of landlord-tenant disputes, avoiding these disputes is often difficult. Consequently, landlords, especially first-time landlords, can benefit from consulting with an attorney to better understand their obligations and rights before accepting tenants. Additionally, if disputes with current tenants do arise, landlords should speak promptly with an attorney about potential options.