Apartment Leases.

LEASES

WHAT IS A LEASE?

A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant which contains the terms and conditions of the rental. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless both parties agree. Leases for apartments which are not rent stabilized may be oral or written. However, to avoid disputes the parties may wish to enter into a written agreement. A party must sign the lease in order to be bound by its terms. An oral lease for more than one year cannot be legally enforced. General Obligations Law § 5-701.

At a minimum, leases should identify the premises, specify the names and addresses of the parties, the amount and due dates of the rent, the duration of the rental, the conditions of occupancy, and the rights and obligations of both parties. Except where the law provides otherwise, a landlord may rent on such terms and conditions as are agreed to by the parties.

Any changes to the lease should be initialed by both parties. New York City rent stabilized tenants are entitled to receive from their landlords a fully executed copy of their signed lease within 30 days of the landlord’s receipt of the lease signed by the tenant. The lease’s beginning and ending dates must be stated. Rent stabilized tenants must also be given a rent stabilization lease rider, prepared by DHCR, which summarizes their rights under the law and provides specific information on how the rent was calculated.

LEASE PROVISIONS

Leases must use words with common and everyday meanings and must be clear and coherent. Sections of leases must be appropriately captioned and the print must be large enough to be read easily. General Obligations Law § 5-702; NY C.P.L.R. § 4544.

The following lease provisions are void:

  • Exempting landlords from liability for injuries to persons or property caused by the landlord’s negligence, or that of the landlord’s employees or agents
  • Waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit brought by either of the parties against the other for personal injury or property damage
  • Requiring tenants to pledge their household furniture as security for rent
  • General Obligations Law § 5-321; Real Property Law • § 259-c and § 231.

If a lease states that the landlord may recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred if a lawsuit arises, a tenant automatically has a reciprocal right to recover those fees as well. Real Property Law § 234.

If the court finds a lease or any lease clause to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, the court may refuse to enforce the lease or the clause in question. Real Property Law § 235-c.

RENEWAL LEASES

For non-rent regulated apartments, a tenant may only renew the lease with the consent of the landlord and may be subject to eviction at the end of the lease term. However, a lease may contain an automatic renewal clause. In such case, the landlord must give the tenant advance notice of the existence of this clause between 15 and 30 days before the tenant is required to notify the landlord of an intention not to renew the lease. General Obligations Law § 5-905.

Rent stabilized tenants have a right to a one or two year renewal lease, which must be on the same terms and conditions as the prior lease. A landlord’s acceptance of a Section 8 subsidy is one such term which must be continued on a renewal lease. Landlords may refuse to renew a lease only in certain enumerated circumstances, such as when the tenant is not using the premises as a primary residence. For New York City rent stabilized tenants, the landlord must give timely written notice to the tenant of the right to renewal as required by law.

After the notice of renewal is given, the tenant has 60 days in which to accept. If the tenant does not accept the renewal offer within the prescribed time, the landlord may refuse to renew the lease and seek to evict the tenant through court proceedings. If the tenant accepts the renewal offer, the landlord has 30 days to return the fully executed lease to the tenant. Until returned to the tenant, the lease is not effective, and therefore the rent increase portion need not be paid.

MONTH-TO-MONTH TENANTS

Tenants who do not have leases and pay rent on a monthly basis are called "month-to-month" tenants. In localities without rent regulations, tenants who stay past the end of a lease are treated as month-to-month tenants if the landlord accepts their rent. (Real Property Law § 232-c)

A month-to-month tenancy outside New York City may be terminated by either party by giving at least one month’s notice before the expiration of the tenancy. For example, if the landlord wants the tenant to move out by November 1 and the rent is due on the first of each month, the landlord must give notice by September 30. In New York City, 30 days’ notice is required, rather than one month.

The termination notice need not specify why the landlord seeks possession of the apartment, only that the landlord elects to terminate the tenancy and that refusal to vacate will lead to eviction proceedings. Such notice does not automatically allow the landlord to evict the tenant.

A landlord may raise the rent of a month-to-month tenant with the consent of the tenant. If the tenant does not consent, however, the landlord can terminate the tenancy by giving appropriate notice. Real Property Law § 232-a and § 232-b.

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