Tenants Rights and Responsibilities

Please give this document time to load. It is a large file.

PART 1 OF 2, PAGES 1 - 30

 

TENANTS’ RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

 

A Guide for Tenants and Advocates

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

                                                                                                            Page

Introduction                                                                                                    2

 

Chapter 1 Finding an Apartment

Apartment Hunting - Searching Tips                                                              4

Apartment Conditions Checklist                                                                     6

Security Deposits                                                                                             7

Security Deposit Checklist                                                                              9

Housing Discrimination                                                                                 22

What is Gender (or Sex) Discrimination?                                                       25

Is My Lease Legal?                                                                                         28

When Can I Move Into my Apartment?                                                          31

Can I Have a Housemate?                                                                               32

What Landlords Must Tell You about Lead in your Home                             33

 

Chapter 2 Living in Your Apartment

Quiet Enjoyment                                                                                            36

My Landlord’s Right to Enter                                                                        37

Withholding Rent Due to Bad Conditions                                                      39

Repairing Your Apartment and Deducting It from the Rent                          42

Inspection Reports                                                                                          44

Landlord Retaliation                                                                                       45

My Landlord Wants to Change our Agreement                                              47

Proving I Paid My Rent                                                                                   49

Late Fees                                                                                                         51

Rent Increases                                                                                                 53

 

Chapter 3 Moving From Your Apartment

I Can’t Pay the Rent                                                                                        55

My Landlord Wants Me to Move                                                                    58

I Want to Move                                                                                               60

Defending Yourself in an Eviction Proceeding                                               62

72 Hour Notices and Money Judgments                                                          66

What is an Illegal Lockout                                                                              68

 

Chapter 4 after You’ve Moved

Protecting Your Personal Property after Eviction                                           70

Storage of Household Goods                                                                           72

Damage Claims Against Security Deposits                                                     73

Small Claims Court                                                                                         74

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities is a collection of informational materials designed to assist tenants and tenant advocates in finding and maintaining safe and affordable housing. This manual addresses many of the concerns and issues tenants, especially low-income tenants, face in the course of renting a home. The various sections illustrate the chronological evolution of some, although certainly not all, landlord/tenant relationships.

 

The materials contained within this manual represent the work of many past and present members of the Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) Housing Unit.

 

We hope the information contained within these pages is useful and relevant. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. For further information or to schedule a Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities Workshop, contact the NLS Housing Unit at 847-0650.

 

The reprinting of this manual was made possible through funding provided by the City of Buffalo Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in conjunction with Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.

 

 

This booklet, which is based upon New York law, is intended to inform, not to advise. No one should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the aid or advice of an attorney.

 

 

©2012 by Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

FINDING AN APARTMENT

 

 

APARTMENT HUNTING

 

If you allow yourself very little time to locate a suitable apartment, it is less likely that you will go through the proper steps to assure yourself of safe, healthy, habitable housing. You are in the best position to bargain with a potential landlord before you have paid a security deposit or have moved your belongings into an apartment. Any major repairs should be completed by the landlord before you move in or give the landlord your security deposit. Always get promises to make repairs by a certain date in writing.

 

The first step after you decide to move and you decide how much you can afford to pay as rent is to find a safe and affordable area to begin your housing search. Visit different areas of the city to see which you like best. Visit the area you may want to move to a couple of times and at different times of the day and night. This may alert you to any potential problems.

 

Look at the houses in the neighborhood where you would like to live. Are they being kept up? Does it look like the people who live there care enough to keep things cleaned up?

 

Talk to the local police. Ask them about the area you want to live in. Are there gangs? Are there drugs? Walk around the neighborhood and talk with residents. Ask them if there are any problems in the neighborhood.

 

During the search.....

 

After selecting an area, it is time to actually visit potential places to live. Call the landlord and set up an appointment to view the available apartment. Ask the landlord if the taxes and water bill are paid. Ask who must pay the utilities, water bill, and the garbage tax. Are pets allowed? Walk around the outer perimeter of the house. Expensive exterior repairs that need to be made to the home you want to rent may divert money away from making repairs inside.

 

Do you need basement access? Do you have a washer and dryer? Will they fit down the basement stairs? Are the stairs and railings in good shape? Examine the hot water tank. Look for signs of mold and moisture. Check to see that every furnace is vented to the outside. If the tenant must pay for utilities, check to see that there are separate meters. Tenants should not agree to share the gas, electric or water bills.

 

When examining the living quarters, check all lights and light switches. Bring a bulb to put in the light sockets as needed to make sure the lights are working. Bring a small plug-in item, such as a clock radio or alarm clock. Plug it in electrical outlets to make sure the outlets are working.

 

Make sure the thermostat is working. Have someone turn it all the way up and have someone downstairs make sure the furnace comes on. If there are missing switch covers or wall outlet covers, ask when they will be replaced. Is there exposed electrical wiring? Make sure all the windows open and lock when closed. Check for cracked/broken windows. Make sure windows have screens and storm windows. Open and close all doors. All entry doors need a sturdy lock that works properly. Open and look very closely at all cabinets. Look for signs of roaches, mice or rats. Turn on all faucets full blast. Is the water pressure high? Are there any leaks from the faucets? Does the water smell bad or look brown?

 

Check drainage from sinks to make sure the water drains properly and quickly. If the drain is slow it could be a sign of a clogged drain. Examine the drains under the sinks. Are there any signs of leaks? Turn on all showers and bathtubs. Is there good water pressure? Are there any leaks? Examine the heating registers and check to see that they are secured to the wall.

 

Examine the paint and wallpaper. Is the paint in good shape? Ask about possible lead paint. The paint should not be chipping or peeling. Any loose tiles or floorboards should be secured. Check for stained carpets, tears in linoleum and cracked or chipped tiles.

 

If appliances come with the apartment, check to see that they work. All the burners should function properly. The freezer should freeze properly. If the appliances are not working properly, write a note to remind yourself and the landlord what parts of the appliances were not working as of the date of your inspection.

 

Open all doors, inspect all closet spaces. Examine the ceiling and .walls for water spots. If you see signs of water damage, find out if there have been water leaks. Ask the landlord what has been done to correct the problem. Check all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Also, measure the biggest items you have and make sure you can get them in the door. If your largest items will not fit through the doors, you probably have to find a different apartment. If the apartment has a storage area or garage make sure it is cleaned out and the locks are secure.

 

Some things to ask before you agree to rent the apartment: When will the apartment be available? Does the landlord require a security deposit? How much is the security deposit and when is it due? How much is the rent and when is it payable? Are there any late fees? Is there access to the garage or driveway? Is there a pet policy? Who can you contact for emergency repairs? Make sure you get the landlord’s full name, address and telephone number before you pay the landlord the security deposit or agree to rent the apartment.

 

Once you’ve found your new home….

 

Read any lease or rental agreement carefully before you sign it. Make sure you understand what you are signing. Once you sign the lease, you will be bound to its terms. If you do not understand any paragraph in the lease agreement your new landlord wants you to sign, tell the prospective landlord that you need some time to review it. Contact Neighborhood Legal Services, and we can review your lease and answer any questions you may have.

 

Keep copies of all correspondence to and from your landlord.

 

Always get a receipt from your landlord when you pay your rent.

 

Enjoy your new home!

 

 

APARTMENT CONDITIONS CHECKLIST

 

  1. All windows and doors should have a secured, properly installed working lock.
  2. The living room and bedrooms have at least one window.
  3. All windows should be secure in their frames, should open and should be free of cracked or broken glass.
  4. No cracked, chipping or peeling paint on walls or ceiling.
  5. Each apartment should have at least one smoke detector, as should the basement and attic.
  6. If appliances are included, make sure they are in good working order with no missing knobs or frayed electrical cords.
  7. The kitchen should have a permanently attached sink that has hot and cold running water and is free of rust and leaks.
  8. The bathroom should have a permanently attached sink that has hot and cold running water and is free of rust and leaks.
  9. The apartment should have either a bathtub or shower that has hot and cold running water free of rust and leaks.
  10. The apartment should have a working toilet.
  11. The heating system must be capable of providing sufficient heat.
  12. The apartment should have a working water heater with on/off control knobs and pressure relief valves.
  13. There should be at least one permanently attached light fixture in all bedrooms, kit hen, bathroom and living room.
  14. Check to see that there is no exposed electrical wiring or exposed fuse box connections.
  15. Check for rodent or insect infestation.

 

 

SECURITY DEPOSITS

 

A security deposit is a landlord’s way of guaranteeing that he or she will be compensated for any damages caused by a tenant. The amount of the deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent, but landlords may decide to charge more.

 

Where does my deposit money go once I give it to my landlord?

 

If the building in which you are moving into has more than six units in it, the landlord must put your money into an interest bearing savings account. The interest which this money may accumulate will belong to you, the tenant. If your building is less than six units, your landlord may still deposit your money into an interest bearing account. If your landlord does so, he or she should pay you the interest. The landlord in either situation is allowed to keep 1% of the interest for expenses.

 

Can I use my security deposit to pay my last month’s rent when I plan to move?

 

You cannot use your security deposit for the last month’s rent unless the landlord agrees to it. Your security deposit is intended to pay for damages that you may cause while moving in, living in or moving out of the landlord’s property.

 

How long can my landlord hold my security deposit after I move out?

 

The landlord does not have to give you your security deposit back the day you move out. Your landlord may hold your security deposit for a reasonable time after you move out of the house. A reasonable time to return a security deposit is generally considered to be within 30 days after the tenant moves.

 

What happens if I damage the landlord’s property?

 

The landlord may deduct a portion of the security deposit to cover the cost of the damages. The balance of the security deposit should be given back to you. If the cost of repairing the damages is greater than the amount of your security deposit, it is likely that the landlord will keep the entire security deposit.

 

What if the damages done to the property are more than what my security deposit can cover?

 

If this happens, the landlord may take you to Small Claims Court to recover the total cost of repairing the damages.

 

Can my landlord keep my security deposit even if I did not cause any damage to the property and I do not owe any rent?

 

The answer is no. Your landlord cannot keep your security deposit if you have not caused any damage to the property and you don’t owe rent when you leave. If this does happen, you should file a claim in Small Claims Court against your landlord to recover your deposit.

 

 

SECURITY DEPOSIT CHECKLIST

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

 

 

 

 

LIVING ROOM

 

Walls & Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Fixtures

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

 

 

 

 

DINING ROOM

 

Walls & Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Fixtures

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

KITCHEN

 

Walls & Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sink

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabinets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refrigerator

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Fixtures

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

BATHROOM

 

Walls & Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sink

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tub/Shower

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabinets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirrors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towel Racks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

BEDROOM #1

 

Walls & Ceilings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floors/Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

BEDROOM #2

 

Walls & Ceilings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floors/Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

Closets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

BEDROOM #3

 

Walls & Ceilings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floors/Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (Specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

 

OTHER ROOMS

 

Walls & Ceilings

 

 

 

 

 

Floors/Carpeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm/Screen Windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doors

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

BASEMENT

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storage

 

 

 

 

 

Washer/Dryer

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

ATTIC

 

Windows

 

 

 

 

 

Storage

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

FRONT ENTRANCE

 

Storm/Screen Door

 

 

 

 

 

Door Locks

 

 

 

 

 

Hall Area

 

 

 

 

 

Stairs

 

 

 

 

 

Electrical Outlets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

REAR ENTRANCE

 

Storm/Screen Door

 

 

 

 

 

Door Locks

 

 

 

 

 

Hall Area

 

 

 

 

 

Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INITIAL CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

MOVE OUT

CONDITIONS

(new, used, clean, dirty, specific damages)

COMMENTS

EXTERIOR

 

Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

Front/Rear Porch

 

 

 

 

 

Front/Rear Stairs

 

 

 

 

 

Front/Rear Yard

 

 

 

 

 

Other (specify)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenant’s Signature & Date                                                                                           

 

 

Landlord’s Signature & Date                                                                                      

 

 

HOUSING DISCRIMINATION

 

What is unlawful housing discrimination in New York State?

 

Housing discrimination occurs when someone is denied the opportunity to rent or buy a house because of their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, marital status, children, age, military status, or sexual preference. It is illegal to make decisions about housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, marital status, children, age, military status, or sexual preference. In some cities and towns in New York, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based upon their lawful source of income, or the way in which they express their gender.

 

Can someone refuse to rent to me because of my race or color?

 

No one can refuse to rent or sell housing to someone because of their race or color. No one can change the conditions of a rental or sale because of someone’s race or color. For example, a landlord cannot charge you more rent than your white neighbor just because you are African-American.

 

Can someone refuse to rent to me because of my national origin, religion, disability, gender, marital status, age, military status, sexual orientation, or because I have children?

 

Generally speaking, the answer is no. No one can refuse to rent to you for those reasons. However, the laws about discrimination based on these classifications do have some exceptions. Certain housing, such as apartments in owner-occupied doubles, may not be covered by these laws.

 

Does the law protect people with disabilities from discrimination?

 

If you are a person with a disability, the same law that says that your landlord cannot discriminate against you, also requires that your landlord allow you to make reasonable changes to your apartment so that you can fully use and enjoy it. For example, if you are hearing impaired, you might want to have a lighted doorbell installed. There are some rules you must follow when requesting permission to make changes or when making changes to an apartment. You may want to contact Neighborhood Legal Services for more information.

 

Does the law protect me against discrimination if I have children?

 

The law also says that a landlord cannot discriminate against you because you have children. There are some exceptions, but usually a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you or raise your rent because you have children, or become pregnant. In addition, your landlord cannot generally evict you because you have someone move in with you.

 

Can my landlord discriminate against me because of my lawful source of income?

 

No, not if you live in Buffalo, West Seneca or Hamburg. The state and federal laws do not protect against discrimination based on your source of income. But if you live in Buffalo, West Seneca or Hamburg, there are local laws that say the landlord cannot discriminate against you if you don’t work but have enough money coming in from another source to allow you to afford the apartment. For example, if your income is from the Department of Social Services or if you receive Section 8, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you for that reason as long as your income is enough to afford to rent the apartment.

 

Can my landlord discriminate against me due to my sexual preference or sexual orientation?

 

New York State passed the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act which protects individuals against discrimination based upon sexual preference.

 

What can I do if my landlord sexually harasses me?

 

Sexual harassment by your landlord is also a form of illegal discrimination. If you experience sexual harassment, you should call Neighborhood Legal Services or any of the other agencies listed below.

 

Can my landlord discriminate against me because of my gender identity or expression?

 

No, not if you live in Buffalo. The Buffalo Fair Housing Ordinance says that a landlord may not refuse to rent to you or treat you differently than other tenants based on how you express your gender. That means if you dress or act in a way that is different from what is traditionally associated with your birth gender, you are protected against housing discrimination.

 

How can I tell if I have been a victim of housing discrimination?

 

It is often very hard to tell whether you have been the victim of discrimination. For example, very few landlords will tell you that they will not rent to you because of your race or your children or your sexual orientation. The landlord may just tell you that the apartment has already been rented. One way to tell is to keep an eye on the advertisements. If an ad for an apartment continues to run even after the landlord says the apartment is taken, keep copies of those newspapers. Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) may be able to help you prove your discrimination case if you are told that an apartment has already been rented and you think it still may be available.

 

Another way to tell is to compare notes with your neighbors. If you are paying a much larger security deposit than your neighbor, and you have three children and she has none, you may be the victim of discrimination.

 

What should I do if I believe I have been discriminated against?

 

You should act quickly. The laws regarding discrimination vary, but in many cases you have as little as one year to file a claim. Also, any investigation of your claim by the following agencies will be most helpful if conducted soon after the discrimination occurs.

You may contact the Housing Unit of Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc. at 847-0650 for more information. The Housing Unit accepts a limited number of calls every day, Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

 

Other agencies that handle housing discrimination claims are Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) at 854-1400; New York State Division of Human Rights at 847- 7632, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 1- 800-669-9777 or at the HUD website at www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm, or Independent Living Center at 836-0822.

GENDER DISCRIMINATION

 

Together, state and federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender (or sex), disability, familial status, religion, marital status, age, military status and sexual orientation. In the City of Buffalo, discrimination based upon gender identity and expression is also unlawful.

 

What is “gender identity and expression”?

 

Under the City of Buffalo’s fair housing law, gender identity and expression includes a person’s actual or perceived gender, as well as a person’s gender identity, self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior is different than traditionally associated with the person’s sex at birth. If you dress or act in a way that is different from the traditional way people born with your gender dress or act, you are protected from discrimination in the City of Buffalo.

 

What kind of protections are there against gender based discrimination in the federal and state law?

 

Suppose Landlord A says, “I would never rent to young women because their personal products clog up the toilet.” Suppose Landlord B says, “Well, I never rent to young men because they are terrible housekeepers and they don’t take care of the place.” Both of these landlords are refusing to rent to certain people because of their gender and their refusal may be considered unlawful discrimination.

 

Gender discrimination in housing takes other forms as well. Let’s say a landlord tells a female tenant that she could exchange sex for the rental of her apartment. The landlord serves an eviction notice when the tenant refuses. Courts have held that an offer to exchange sex for the use of an apartment is illegal discrimination based on gender. Other examples of unlawful gender based discrimination might include an apartment manager who launches into a string of X-rated comments each month when he picks up the rent, or a manager who engages one of his workers in a loud conversation about the a tenant’s anatomy or sexual habits in the tenant’s presence. Some courts have held that this kind of behavior creates a “hostile living environment” and therefore is also unlawful discrimination.

 

Suppose a rental agent always has a big smile and hello when he sees a certain prospective tenant walk into his agency. On the prospective tenant’s third visit to check out apartment listings, the rental agent asks her if she would like to go to a movie sometime. The woman explains that she has a boyfriend and turns him down. However, she feels uncomfortable and so switches to another rental agency for her apartment search. This probably would not be found to rise to the level of unlawful gender discrimination. The fact that a person is made to feel uncomfortable about attention that may be sexually based would probably by itself not constitute discrimination based on gender.

 

Incidents between these extremes present more difficult issues. The courts have indicated that “trivial” incidents are not unlawful, but serious ones are. In cases of “hostile living environments,” the courts look for repeated rather than single or minor incidents. Even the courts disagree on the level of conduct needed to find unlawful discrimination based on gender.

 

The activity complained of must also be unwanted. A tenant could not, for example, encourage frequent joking with sexual innuendo with her manager, and then claim sexual discrimination when the manager lawfully raises her rent.

 

Who do the laws prohibiting gender based discrimination in housing apply to?

 

These laws apply to apartment owners, real estate agents, apartment managers, and other employees such as maintenance personnel, as well as anyone else involved in the sale or rental of housing. There are exceptions. In New York State, some prohibitions do not apply to owner-occupied, two-family homes.

 

What should a victim of sexual harassment related to housing do?

 

It is a good idea to call an attorney or an agency such as Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) at 854-1400 to discuss the offensive behavior as soon after it occurs as possible.

 

The victim should also keep notes. These notes should include the date, time, what occurred, who engaged in the offensive behavior, what was said, and whether there were any witnesses. These records will assist the victim in the future should he or she decide to take action. Memories about particular details will often fade. The victim should also keep records showing that there were no problems with the tenancy. Many landlords respond to a sex harassment claim by, bringing an eviction action. The tenant would have to show that the reason for the eviction is the landlord’s discriminatory behavior to prevail.

 

The tenant may want to speak to other sympathetic tenants. The tenant should first consider very carefully whether other tenants have a friendly relationship with the landlord. Sometimes a tenant will find that other tenants have experienced similar situations with the landlord.

 

The victim should also try to arrange to have someone present when dealing with the offender. For example, if a manager makes a routine of picking up the rent on a certain day, the tenant should try to arrange to have someone else there to both witness what happens and to prevent further harassment.

 

When should a victim take action against the landlord?

 

In deciding whether to take formal action against a landlord, the victim will need to consider several factors. The victim will need to decide whether to remain in the housing or move. Does the victim feel safe in the housing? The landlord will usually have a key to the apartment. Particularly in the case of owner-occupied housing, the victim may be placed in an extremely uncomfortable situation by taking action against the landlord while still living in the premises. Seeking advice from an attorney or an agency such as HOME may be very helpful in deciding what to do.

What action can be taken?

 

This also depends on the particular circumstances involved. If unwanted sexual touching is involved, the victim may call the police. It may be particularly helpful to discuss the matter with an attorney, HOME, or similar agency first. Sometimes a letter to the landlord will correct the situation. The letter could be written by the victim, a legal services office, or by an agency such as HOME.

 

Whether or not the landlord is first contacted to correct the situation, the victim may file a formal·complaint against the landlord. Complaints may be filed with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development or the NYS Division of Human Rights. Each of these government agencies will investigate the victim’s claims. If the agency determines that reasonable cause exists to believe that discrimination has occurred, the matter will go to a hearing. A victim does not need an attorney to file with these agencies.

 

Alternatively, the victim could choose to file a complaint directly in state or federal court. Generally an attorney is needed to do this. The complaint will then be heard by a judge or jury.

 

It is very important to take action quickly. In some cases, the complaint must be filed within one (1) year of the date the discrimination occurred.

 

WHO TO CONTACT IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF SEX DISCRIMINATION IN HOUSING

 

NEIGHBORHOOD LEGAL SERVICES

716-847-0650

 

HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES MADE EQUAL (HOME)

716-854-1400

 

US DEPT. OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

1-800-424-8590

 

NYS DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

716-847-7632

 

BUFFALO FAIR HOUSING OFFICE

716-851-4212

 

ERIE COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION LAWYER REFERRAL.

716-852-3100

 

  

IS MY LEASE LEGAL?

 

What is a lease?

 

A lease is a written agreement between a tenant and a landlord. The lease agreement explains the tenant’s rights and responsibilities, and the landlord’s rights and responsibilities.

 

The words used in a lease should have everyday meanings. Landlords must use leases that their tenants will be able to read and understand without difficulty.

 

All written residential leases must be written in plain English and organized so that they are easy to follow.

 

Is print size important?

 

Yes. The print size in a lease should be large enough so that the lease can be read easily. A tenant should not have to use a magnifying glass or other instrument to read it. The print size must be no less than 8 points in depth. The text below contains a sample of 8 point print.

 

 
   

 

Landlord Agrees Not to Discriminate Based

Upon Race, Creed, National Origin, Sex,

Age, Handicap, Membership......

 

 
   

 

If the print size in your lease is smaller than what is shown above, it is too small. This may mean that your landlord can not use this lease against you.

 

Are all lease requirements legal?

 

No. The law says that certain rules or requirements included in a lease may be illegal (or non-enforceable), even if both the landlord and tenant signed the agreement. If something in a lease is illegal, the landlord cannot enforce that rule or requirement. The rest of the lease is still good and the landlord can enforce the other terms of the lease.

 

How can I tell if any part of my lease is unenforceable?

 

The following is a list of unenforceable lease provisions:

 

  • Provisions which prohibit a tenant from raising any defenses in a legal proceeding.
  • Provisions that require tenants to remain single or childless
  • Provisions which require a tenant to deposit all rents alleged to be due with a court before asserting a defense
  • Provisions that are unclear or confusing or are not written in plain language
  • Provisions that limit occupancy to one person
  • Excessive late fee provisions
  • Provisions that allow the landlord to take a tenant’s personal property if the tenant fails to pay rent
  • Provisions that allow the landlord to collect attorney fees from the tenant when tenant wins a legal action
  • Provisions waiving a tenant’s rights to an apartment that is safe and liveable

 

The following lease provisions have been determined enforceable or lawful:

 

  • Provisions that waive a tenant’s right to trial by jury
  • Provisions that provide that the landlord’s acceptance of keys, re-renting or taking back the apartment are not considered a surrender of the lease

 

Can a lease limit the people who live in my apartment?

 

Sometimes a lease says that only certain people, or a certain number of people, can live in the home. This may be illegal.

 

A tenant may allow the following people to move into his/her apartment as long as the tenant continues to live in the apartment:

 

  1. The tenant’s immediate family.
  2. One other person (an occupant), and the occupant’s dependent children.

 

For example, if you and your brother live in an apartment, you may let your friend and her two children move in, too. If your brother also signed the lease (as a co-tenant), he may allow his girlfriend and her children to move in as well. Your landlord cannot evict you for the extra people, as long as you are not violating any federal, state, or local laws or housing or building codes that regulate overcrowding. The tenant is required to give the landlord the names of any additional occupants. More information about your right to bring additional occupants into your home is included in the section Can I Have a Housemate.

 

Can a lease require that I rent an apartment “as is?”

 

No. Sometimes a landlord will tell a tenant that he or she can take an apartment “as is,” and that the tenant may not complain about any bad or dangerous conditions. This is not true. Every lease, written or oral, has a “warranty of habitability,” whether it is written or not. This “warranty” is a guarantee that the apartment does not have any dangerous or unhealthy conditions, and that it is safe to use as a home. This law gives tenants whose homes are in bad shape and unsafe the right to take action to force the landlord to make repairs.

 

Can a lease prohibit me from subletting my apartment?

 

In a building with less than four apartments, a landlord can include a clause in the lease prohibiting the tenant from subletting.

 

In a building with four or more apartments, the tenant has a right to sublet, under certain conditions. This is true even if the lease says that the tenant cannot sublet the apartment. The tenant must tell the landlord that he or she wants to sublet the apartment, and get the landlord’s approval first.

 

If the landlord refuses to approve the sublet without good reasons, the tenant may be able to challenge this in court. If the tenant does want to sublet the apartment, it is important to speak to a lawyer first, especially if the landlord says no.

 

What should I do if I have questions about my lease?

 

If you believe that there may be a problem with your lease, you should have it reviewed by a lawyer. The Housing Unit at Neighborhood Legal Services may be able to review your lease for you.

 

Remember that even if there is an unlawful clause in your lease, it only becomes important if your landlord tries to use it against you. For example, if your lease illegally restricts who can live in your apartment, as long as you are living alone and want to continue to live alone, there is no need for you to take action.

 

Also, even when one part of your lease is unlawful, the rest of the lease is unaffected. That means that you must continue to pay rent and follow the lease requirements even if one part of it is illegal.

 

The best way to protect yourself is to closely read your lease before you sign it, together with any extra papers your landlord may want to attach to the lease. Make sure that the whole agreement is in the lease, and do not rely on verbal, side agreements that you will not be able to prove or enforce. If you and your landlord do decide to change the terms of your written lease agreement, you should do it in writing and both the landlord and the tenant should sign the changed agreement.

 

 

 

Print Print | Sitemap
Copyright 2016-2017 BURA