Illegal Rental Lease Terms

There are many rules and regulations landlords have to follow when it comes to drafting a lease. Landlords are responsible for providing safe, habitable housing, but many landlords try to distance themselves from other rules and responsibilities that are required of them. Many renters don’t know what their rights are, and are willing to sign just about any lease as long as it means their house hunt is over. For those wondering if they signed a lease with illegal terms, here are some of the most common ways landlords try to take advantage of tenants.

Illegal Rental Lease Terms

A Lease Cannot Waive a Resident’s Right to Sublet

One of the most common rules landlords try to get around is subletting. However, New York law says that tenants have a right to request a sublet in buildings that hold more than four units, and a landlord cannot make an unreasonable refusal. Tenants need to mail landlords a list of information 30 days before the sublet would begin. The landlord can ask for additional information as long as it isn’t burdensome to obtain. Once a landlord has the required info, they must allow the subletting to occur without collecting extra money from said subletter (Though the prime tenant can charge an additional 10%). The only way a landlord can refuse a tenant is if they have a reasonable excuse to not let one in. If a landlord doesn’t respond to a sublet request, said lack of response is considered consent.

A Lease Cannot Grant a Landlord Permission to Enter a Home at Any Time

Landlords are legally allowed to enter an apartment without notice only in an emergency. Otherwise a landlord must notify residents that they are entering a home before making repairs, to show the home to potential tenants, or for any other reason listed in the lease. Landlords are never allowed to enter homes unannounced for these, or any other superfluous reasons.

A Lease Cannot Exempt Landlords From Making Necessary Repairs

It’s a landlord’s job to ensure apartments are habitable and safe. This means there always needs to be working heat, running water, and functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Some landlords attempt to exempt themselves from making these necessary repairs should something break. However, not only do they have to make these repairs to a home, they have to pay for said repairs as well. It’s never a resident’s responsibility to fix necessary equipment that keeps their home habitable.

A Lease Cannot Force a Rent Increase or Fees For Repairs Made

In the same vein as the landlord repair law, landlords aren’t allowed to raise rents due to a repair made to a home. Landlords must pay for necessary repairs to keep apartments habitable. Rent can only be increased by the rates agreed upon in the lease, and landlords have to notify residents a month before a rent increase will occur, typically at the end of a lease. Otherwise, rent increases are illegal and cannot be enforced by the landlord.

A Lease Cannot Waive a Tenants Right to a Jury Trial

Many landlords will try to add a clause in their lease saying that a tenants right to sue is waived upon signing. This is not only illegal, it’s ridiculous. That would mean landlords could harass tenants, ignore essential repairs, and even avoid liability for a tenants injuries due to negligence. If a landlord is responsible for personal injury or property damage, they can always be held liable regardless of what a lease might say. Again, they are entirely responsible for keeping homes safe and livable.

A Lease Cannot Force Residents to Put Personal Property Up as Collateral

Landlords want to ensure they make money from monthly rentals, which is why some will try to force residents into putting up personal possessions and furniture as collateral. This is, essentially, theft and is completely illegal. If a tenant hasn’t been paying rent, a landlord can legally evict them as long as they follow the proper protocols. However, taking the property of a tenant means the landlord can be held liable and can even face criminal charges. Still, getting evicted is usually worse than getting property taken away, so it’s good for tenants to ensure rent can be paid on time.

Important Things to Know

A Lease Agreement is Still Binding, Even if One Section is Illegal

If a lease contains an illegal stipulation, said stipulation is unenforceable. That said, the rest of the lease still applies to tenants if it is signed. The only way a lease can be completely unenforceable is if a tenant can prove, in court, that the landlord was being “unconscionable” when the lease was being written. This can be difficult to prove, but it’s worth the effort if the lease contains multiple illegal terms.

How To Handle an Illegal Lease

If a tenant notices a term in their lease is illegal, they should first discuss it with their landlord, in writing. Having communication in writing will be helpful if a landlord refuses to remove the illegal term or insists it can still be enforced. The next step is to file a complaint with the New York City housing authority or call 311. On rare occasions, these issues may have to be taken to housing court in order to be resolved, but this should be the final resort. Housing Court records are public and may make it harder to find new apartments.

Most landlords in New York City write fair leases for tenants to sign. Many of the landlords who have illegal stipulations aren’t even aware that the terms they’ve added might be illegal. Still, it’s important to always read a lease very carefully before it’s signed. This can save tenants from a myriad of problems down the line. It’s also a good idea for tenants to know their housing rights. The situations listed above are the most common ones added to leases, but they are far from the only ones. The more renters who know their rights, the more even the playing field will be in the New York City housing game. 

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