On June 14, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“Law”) into law. The Law makes sweeping changes to several important aspects of landlord-tenant law in New York State, including eviction proceedings. This alert will focus on some of the most significant changes to the Law, some of which took effect on June 14, 2019 and apply to actions and proceedings commenced on or after that date.
Changes Affecting the Application Process and Beginning of a Tenancy
- A landlord may not charge application fees, except for the actual cost of background and/or credit checks, and such fees are capped at $20.
- Denial on the basis that a prospective tenant was involved in prior landlord-tenant disputes is prohibited. The Law creates a rebuttable presumption against a landlord who denies a prospective tenant a unit after having requested information that reveals that such tenant was previously involved in a past or pending landlord-tenant action.
- A conservative landlord approach would be to remove any questionnaire/application questions that seek to solicit information about a prospective tenant’s negative rental history.
- After a lease is signed by a landlord and a tenant, but before the tenant moves into the leased premises, a landlord must offer the tenant the opportunity to inspect the leased premises to determine the condition of the property.
- If a tenant requests a signed document setting forth the condition of the leased premises with any defects or damage noted, a landlord must provide such a document.
- Any security deposit cannot exceed the amount of one month’s rent and must be returned to a tenant within 14 days of the end of the tenancy minus any nonpayment of rent or utilities, costs associated with moving or storing the tenant’s property, and/or costs associated with damage to the leased premises, other than general “wear and tear.”
- A landlord may not keep any portion of the security deposit for any defects or damages noted in the pre-move-in document setting forth such defect or damage.
Changes Affecting the Tenancy
- A landlord must provide a tenant with a written receipt containing certain information of payments made in any form other than by personal check. However, if a tenant is paying by personal check and requests a written receipt, then a landlord must provide a written receipt.
- A landlord may not charge any fees for late rent until more than five (5) days have passed since the date the rent was due, and the landlord sends a notice of failure to pay rent to the tenant via certified mail. Any late fees charged for failure to pay rent may not exceed either $50 or 5 percent of the rent due, whichever is less.
- A landlord must give a tenant written notice of an intent to renew the lease with a rent increase of 5 percent or higher than the current rent rate, or an intent not to renew the lease. The length of the notice period depends on the length of the tenancy. This change will go into effect 120 days after June 14, 2019.
Residential and Commercial Tenancies
- A landlord must notify residential and, according to the New York State Bar Journal, “possibly commercial tenants,” within five (5) days if rent is not received on the relevant due date.
Changes Affecting the Eviction Process and End of a Tenancy
- The Law redefines the term “rent” to include only the amount charged for fair use and occupancy. As such, late fees and other charges cannot be included as “rent” even when categorized by the lease as “additional rent” and cannot be recovered in a summary (eviction) proceeding.
- Previously, when a landlord served a tenant with a Notice to Quit or Pay (“Notice”), or otherwise commenced an eviction proceeding within six (6) months after a tenant made or filed a good faith complaint to a governmental authority, the law presumed, by rebuttable presumption, that the landlord was retaliating against the tenant for the complaint. Per the Law, that period of time has been extended to one (1) year.
- Unless a tenant gives less than two (2) weeks’ notice of an intent to vacate the leased premises, a landlord must give a tenant written notice of their right to request a move-out inspection before the tenant vacates the leased premises. The tenant has the right to be present for move-out inspection.
- The Law now permits a court to stay a warrant for up to one (1) year if a tenant establishes that he or she is unable to secure suitable housing in the same neighborhood as the leased premises.
- Unlawful attempts to evict a tenant are now classified as Class A misdemeanors. Each violation of the statute is a separate offense, punishable by $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.
- In the event of a default judgment (i.e., a tenant does not appear at the eviction hearing), a landlord may no longer recover attorney fees.
Residential and Commercial Tenancies
- If seeking to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent, a landlord must give a tenant 14-day Notice instead of the previous 3-day Notice. The 14-day Notice can request past-due “rent” only; no late fees or other charges may be included.
- A landlord is now required to mitigate any damages by attempting to re-rent the leased premises at fair market value or at the rate as agreed upon during the tenancy.
- With some exceptions, all notices of petition to recover real property must be served at least 10 days, and not more than 17 days, before the date of the appearance.
- A tenant now has 14 days after service of a warrant of eviction before the warrant will be executed. Further, the relevant sheriff’s department must execute the warrant between the hours of sunrise and sunset.
- The Law requires a court to vacate a warrant of eviction if a tenant “tender[s] or deposit[s] with the court…the full rent due” any time before the execution of the warrant.
In summary, the extent to which the Law changes existing landlord-tenant law across the State cannot be overstated. Clients with commercial or residential rental properties are encouraged to seek legal advice regarding effects of the Law.