If you haven't lived in a New York City rental apartment before, you might not be clear on what you can expect your landlord to provide. You might have an idea about the basics, like heat and hot water, but what about a new paint job or you know, a place to put your clothes?
In fact, the level of services that have to be provided vary depending on the type of building—one with multiple apartments versus a one- or two-family house, tenement versus elevator, rent stabilized or controlled versus market-rate apartment—and they can vary from building to building, says tenant lawyer Sam Himmelstein of Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (a Brick sponsor, FYI).
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in October, 2018. We are presenting it again here as part of our winter Best of Brick week.]
Still, there are certain things landlords are supposed to provide by law, covered by the Warranty of Habitability, the NYC Housing Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling Law, and the provisions of the Rent Stabilization Regulations. That’s a lot to take in. It's no wonder the state’s Court of Appeals once referred to NYC housing laws as an “impenetrable thicket” of rules, regulations, and statutes, Himmelstein points out.
To help make things more clear, here’s a list of 10 key items landlords are required to provide (in most NYC rental buildings), followed by a list of what they are not.
1. Heat, and hot and cold water
We’re in the beginning of “heat season”—October 1st through May 31st—so this issue is popular at the moment. It’s when landlords must provide heat for a temperature of 68 during the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) if the mercury dips below 55 degrees outside, and at night a temperature of at least 62 degrees, regardless of the outside temperature. You can read more about the details in Brick’s Heating 101 guide. Hot and cold water are to be provided at all times.
2. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors/fire safety
Landlords must provide and install at least one approved and operational carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector in each apartment. “The caveat here, though, is that you must maintain a set of working batteries. At move-in, the apparatus is working, but keeping it working is on you,” says Mike Jeneralczuk, CEO of Undorm at Real NY.
If you break or remove a detector, you are required to replace it.
As for fire safety, all buildings with three or more apartments are required to have self-closing doors; a fire escape plan must be posted on the inside of every apartment door, common area, and distributed to each dwelling, new tenants, and annually during fire prevention week; and clear unobstructed exits.
Also, if you’re thinking of installing a key-locked gate on your fire escape window, or a double cylinder lock, they’re illegal.
3. Pest-free properties
You’ll likely come across a mouse or a roach (or more) while living in a NYC apartment, but your landlord has an obligation to keep their properties free of pests. Under Local Law 55, beginning January 19th, “property owners must use integrated pest management practices to remediate the presence of pests.” If mice, rats, and/or roaches are still around in either an apartment or common area, it will result in a Class C (immediately hazardous) violation.
Also beginning on that date, multiple dwelling owners will be required to annually inspect units for indoor allergen hazards, including mice, rats, roaches, and mold.
As for bedbugs, New York State law requires property owners to disclose infestation history dating back one year to new tenants through the bedbug disclosure form. They also must now submit an annual report on bedbug infestations and eradication methods.
NYC banned the use of lead-based paint in residential buildings in 1960, but it is likely to exist in buildings built before then. The city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires landlords to identify and remediate lead-based paint hazards in apartments where young children under the age of 6 live. You can learn more about the details here.
5. Paint or wallpaper on the walls
NYC's Housing Maintenance Code requires landlords of buildings with multiple apartments to paint or cover the walls with wallpaper, and repaint or recover the walls every three years. The only time the cost of painting can be passed to the tenant is if they request a special brand of paint or a particular color, or if the tenant caused damage that requires paint.
For multiple dwelling buildings erected after April 18th, 1929, every room, including kitchens and bathrooms, has to "have at least one window opening directly upon a street or upon a lawful yard, court, or space above a setback upon the same lot.” And each window must be located so it properly lights all portions of the room. There are a few exceptions to this rule, so review the code if you want more information. “There’s a formula, and it depends on the size of the room, but in order to qualify as a room it has to meet light and air requirements,” Himmelstein says.
7. Window guards
Owners must provide and properly install window guards on all windows, including first-floor bathrooms and windows leading onto a balcony or terrace, in apartments where a child 10 years of age or younger resides, and in each common area window, if any. Even if you don’t have a child 10 or younger, but you want guards—say you have friends or family who bring young children to visit you—the landlord is required to install them.
8. Locked front door and a peephole
“Most buildings have to have a locked front door to provide some security so people can’t walk right into the building,” Himmelstein says.
In addition, your entry door should have a lock, and the landlord must give you at least one key to it. In a Class A multiple dwelling (this covers most apartments that are used for permanent residence purposes), the door should have a heavy-duty dead bolt operable by a key from the outside and a thumb-turn from the inside, as well as a heavy-duty latch set. There also should be a chain door guard so you can partially open your door (per section 27-2043 of the Housing Maintenance Code).
There also should be an operating peephole in your entrance door, and located in a place that lets you view any person immediately outside the entrance door (per section 27-2041 of the Housing Maintenance Code).
9. Mail service
Landlords are required to either provide and maintain approved mailboxes and directories of tenants, as provided by federal law and by the regulations of the post office department, or they must arrange for mail to be delivered to them, their agents, or employees for prompt distribution (per section 27-2047 of the Housing Maintenance Code).
10. Continuous amenities
For rent stabilized tenants, if certain amenities were provided when you moved in, they must continuously be provided. If they break down or are removed, you might qualify for a rent credit or rent freeze.
“This includes things like a doorman, laundry room, storage, room, outdoor access like to a roof deck or backyard, parking garage,” Himmelstein says, adding some things are required services, like a doorman, and some are ancillary, like a parking garage. If the landlord discontinues a service, they can apply to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal for a modification, and DHCR will typically allow it, but with conditions. For example, if the doorman is discontinued, they have to come with a replacement that provides an equivalent level of security, which could be an intercom system, or camera.
10 things landlords are not required to provide
“A majority of my renters are first-time renters, and there’s definitely a list of things they expect to be present in the apartment. It may seem like common sense, but in New York, we quickly learn to never expect anything,” Undorm’s Jeneralczuk says. “The clear-cut answer is the lease defines what’s present.”
Below are some of the more common items sources mentioned that you might anticipate being included in your apartment, but are surprised to learn are not.
1. Microwave and dishwasher
A lot of tenants, particularly new renters, assume a kitchen will come with a microwave, but it’s your responsibility to buy one if you want one. Same goes for the dishwasher.
“Some clients from outside New York are shocked that landlords usually do not provide [them], but these are luxuries. Sure, they’re present in a lot of apartments, but they come with a price tag and are definitely not a given,” Jeneralczuk says.
2. Air conditioner and/or AC installation
Again, this is up to you to provide. When you’re visiting an apartment before renting it, you might see an AC in the apartment, but then it will likely be gone by the time you move in.
Typically, what happens is “the former tenant moved and took it with them; we have to tell the tenant it didn’t belong to us,” says Michael Rothschild, vice president for AJ Clarke Real Estate Corp. (Check out Brick’s article on how to keep your NYC apartment cool in summer.)
If you purchase an AC, you’ll also be responsible for having it installed property. “It's not our job to do it, but it could be dangerous if it’s not installed properly. We will solicit on behalf of the super while being clear that anyone qualified can install it,” says Arik Lifshitz, CEO of developer and management company DSA Property Group.
3. Refrigerator and stove
Actually, a landlord is not legally required to provide a stove and refrigerator, even though most do, otherwise they would have a hard time renting the unit. “In some units, the refrigerator is very small, or the stove might be more of a cooktop or two burner as opposed to a full-size stove, so there is some latitude as to what constitutes a refrigerator or cooking device,” says Melissa Noblit, COO of Mirador Real Estate.
Whatever appliances owners do provide, they are responsible for keeping them in working order. And check to make sure they’re mentioned in your lease.
4. Window screens
This is one provision that some people expect, but landlords are not required to provide them, Noblit says.
5. Window shades and curtain rods
Not a morning person and annoyed when the sun comes screaming, er, streaming through your window at 7 a.m.? “A lot of people, especially if they come from out of town, think the landlord will provide blinds, but they are not required,” says Leah Hasson, a salesperson with Citi Habitats. It’s on you to buy curtains or blackout shades to cover your windows to block the light.
6. Light bulb replacements
The lights should be working when you move in, but when the bulbs burn out, it’s on you to replace them. “This is rare, but always amusing when it comes up,” Lifshitz says.
7. Reimbursement for personal losses or damages
Landlords are not responsible if any tenant property is damaged unless it is due to gross negligence, Rothschild says. “If there’s a leak and some property gets damaged, the landlord is not responsible. Occasionally, we will come to some sort of settlement, but the solution is for tenants to have renter’s insurance. It’s not very expensive and would solve the problem,” he adds.
8. Top locks and replacement keys
As mentioned in the lock and key section above, the landlord needs to provide just one bottom lock. Any additional locks you want on your door for security, “that’s the tenant’s responsibility,” Rothschild says.
And if you lock yourself out and your super is not available to let you in and you have to call a locksmith, you have to pay for the new lock and keys.
Not all NYC bedrooms come with closets. Hasson had a situation recently where two of an apartment’s bedrooms were closetless, and the potential renter asked if the landlord would put them in. “Generally, tenants will expect a landlord to build a closet before moving in, or will ask for money toward buying a wardrobe, but that’s up to the landlord,” she explains.
10. Security of delivered packages
This has come up more and more as people move to online shopping. It’s especially a challenge for walk-up buildings, which typically do not have a doorman.
“A package left by Fed Ex or UPS by a tenant’s front door, which is then stolen is not our responsibility,” Lifshitz explains. “We can and will try to help find out who stole the package through our video camera system, but most thieves are two steps ahead.”
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