Know Your Rights as A New York City Tenant

Written by
Abraham Jaros
Updated on Friday, Nov 17, 2023

At Jaroslawicz & Jaros we receive many questions relative to the rights of Tenants and how to protect those rights. Hopefully, this article will serve to make you a more Informed Tenant.

In order to be an ‘Informed Tenant’, it is crucial that you, prior to signing your lease, read, review, understand, and become informed of your rights and of the obligations owed to you by your Landlord. At times, leases can be complex and confusing, filled with legal terminology and phrases. If you are having difficulty understanding the provisions of the lease, contact an attorney, so that you may become a better-Informed Tenant.

Your lease is a binding contract by and between you and your Landlord, which binds the Landlord to his duties and delineates his responsibilities to you as a Tenant. Many of the responsibilities and duties your Landlord owes you are contained within the provisions of the lease.

In addition to the lease provisions the law in New York City also has various laws and statutes that are designed to protect you, the tenant.

Working Smoke Detector:

There are several New York City rules, regulations, laws, and statutes which provide that a Landlord must provide approved operational smoke detecting devices in each dwelling unit.

New York City Administrative Code § 27-2045, specifies that the Landlord has a responsibility to provide you, the Tenant, with a working and operational smoke detector in each dwelling unit.

Relative to smoke detectors, Landlords must install approved smoke detectors in each apartment, within ten feet of each room used for sleeping. The smoke detectors should be clearly audible in each of those rooms.

Specifically, New York City Administrative Code § 27 - 2045 provides, in part, that: It shall be the duty of the owner of a class A multiple dwelling… to provide and install one or more approved operational smoke detecting devices in each dwelling unit. 1 RCNY § 15-10(d).

During the first year of use, Landlords must repair or replace any broken detector, if its malfunction is not the Tenant’s fault. Prior to signing your lease, you as a Tenant should inquire where the smoke detectors are located and conduct a test in order to determine the functionality of the smoke detector. After signing the lease, you as a Tenant, should test the smoke-detectors frequently to make sure they work properly.

Your Responsibility to Maintain the Smoke Detector:

Although the Landlord is required to provide a functional and operational smoke detector, it becomes the duty of the Tenant to ‘keep and maintain such a device in good repair.’ Specifically, New York City Administrative Code § 27-2045 provides that: It shall be the sole duty of the occupant of each dwelling unit in a class A multiple dwelling in which a smoke detecting device has been provided…

To keep and maintain such device in good repair; and Replace any and all devices which are either stolen, removed, missing or rendered inoperable during the occupancy of such dwelling unit.

Basically, once your Landlord installs a working and operational smoke detector, the responsibility to maintain the smoke detector switches to the Tenant, unless, however, where the smoke detector becomes inoperable within one year after installation due to no fault of the Tenant. The law which governs maintenance of smoke detectors could be found under Multiple Dwelling Law § 68; which provides that: All multiple dwellings, whenever constructed, shall have in each unit, functioning smoke detector that meets fire code requirements and that the Tenant can check for operation.

How Do I Know What My Responsibilities Are?

Under Multiple Dwelling Law § 68, in addition to initially providing and installing the smoke detecting devices, the owner shall, notify Tenants in writing, individually or through posting of a notice in a common area of the building, of the respective duties of owners and Tenants under this section. If you find that your Landlord has not posted the required notice of the respective duties of owners and Tenants, you may request that he do so on an expedited basis. If in turn, the Landlord still has not provided the requisite notice, then contact an attorney.

Responsibilities My Landlord Owes:

All residences in New York City are required to have two means of egress, or exits. In the event of fire or other emergency, Tenants must have access to another means of leaving the building, should the primary exit become blocked. Multiple Dwelling Law § 146, requires your Landlord to provide you with two means of exit from every apartment in the building. These means of exit include, but are not limited to the following: corridors, doorways, and fire escapes.

What this means to you, as a Tenant, is that, in addition to the door through which you normally enter and exit, there must be at least one other way in which you could easily and reasonably exit your building in an emergency. This can be simply a window of adequate size if the residence is less than two stories. For larger apartment buildings, this usually requires a well-maintained fire escape outside of that window, or an additional stairway that you can access.

Relative to the fire-escape, the Landlord must provide access to a fire-escape from a living room or private hall in each apartment and such access shall not include any window of a stair hall. Further, the Rules and Regulations of the City of New York provide that the landlord must provide ‘prompt and ready access to all fire escapes’.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors:

If you are a Tenant residing within a multiple dwelling building or within a one-or two-family home in New York City, it is the responsibility of your Landlord to provide and install an approved carbon monoxide alarm within fifteen feet of the primary entrance to each sleeping room. All dwellings built or offered for sale in New York State after August 9, 2005, must contain carbon monoxide detectors in accordance with local building codes.

Further, New York City Landlords must post an HPD-approved form in a common area informing Tenants of the requirements of New York City’s carbon monoxide laws. As a Tenant, you are responsible for reimbursing the Landlord $25.00 within one year for each carbon monoxide alarm that is newly installed. You as a Tenant are also responsible for keeping and maintaining the carbon monoxide alarm in good repair. However, landlords are responsible for replacing any detectors that are lost, stolen or become inoperable within the first year of use.

Becoming an informed tenant:

Before you move any of your belongings in, do a walk-through with a checklist itemizing all the issues the apartment may have; for example: holes in the wall, rug stains, broken doors, etc. Writing these down and submitting them to your landlord can save you from having to be responsible for them when you move out.

Further, request that your Landlord change the batteries of the smoke-detectors prior to you moving in and request that he perform a test of the smoke-detectors in front of you so that you may be sure that they are operational when you move in.

As discussed above, you, as a Tenant have many rights under the regulations and laws of New York City and State. Every year, there are countless cases where a Tenant has sustained burn-related injuries due to fire which occurred within the premises they reside in. These injuries are often quite severe, and may require skin grafts, reconstructive surgery, and a period of physical therapy. In the end, the financial impact of a burn injury can be quite substantial, not to mention the pain and suffering involved.

Landlords and building owners are liable for burn injuries and deaths that occur due to locked fire exits or building code violations involved in a fire, sprinkler systems that don’t work, lack of smoke detectors, an absence of clearly marked fire exits or defective door closing devices. Further, there may be additional liability for property owners when it’s clear these dangers were ignored.

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