Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer

Ask Sam: I paid last month's rent when I moved in. Now that I'm leaving, can my landlady make me pay more?

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When I moved into my apartment in 2011, I paid first month's rent, last month's rent, and security. There have been many rent raises since we first moved in, but the landlady never asked for additional money for the security deposit or last month's rent. (Part of the reason we're moving is that she decided to raise the rent by $500, though only informed us verbally.) When I told her we'd be moving, and that we'd use that initial last month payment to cover our final month, however, the landlady demand we pay the difference between that initial number and our current rent. Can she do this?


While she can't make you pay enough to cover the rent raise, your landlord can ask you make up the difference between your initial payment and your current rent, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations

"The key concept to understand here is that rent is a contractual obligation which means it’s an agreement between a landlord and a tenant," says Himmelstein. "The landlord cannot just set the rent and say, 'you now have to pay this amount.' You don't owe that amount to the landlord unless you've agreed to pay it, either in writing or verbally."

Up until the $500 increase that you said no to—and that is your impetus for moving out—you've agreed to all of the previous rent raises that have happened since you first moved in.

"So that means that when you leave, since the last month's rent you paid when you moved in is short from your current, agreed-upon rent, you're going to owe the difference," says Himmelstein. But you won't owe that extra $500.

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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan.  To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.

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