If you are moving into a New York City rental, it’s best to have a clear idea of what you can expect your landlord to provide. Heat and hot water are a given, of course—you shouldn’t have to put up with unlivable conditions—but bedroom curtains or a place to put your clothes? Don’t count on those.
Some of what you can expect will depend on the type of rental building you live in. For example, whether you are in a rent stabilized or market rate apartment, or in a building with just three units, or a complex with thousands of residents. There’s also Mitchell Lama and NYCHA public housing.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article was published in December 2018. We are presenting it again with updated information for April 2021.]
There are numerous state and local laws that outline a landlord’s responsibility—so many in fact that the State’s Court of Appeals once referred to NYC housing laws as an “impenetrable thicket” of rules, regulations, and statutes, according to tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein of Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (a Brick Underground sponsor).
One of the most important set of rules is the warranty of habitability, which ensures the conditions in your apartment don’t compromise your health in any way. The NYC Housing Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling Law, and the provisions of the Rent Stabilization Regulations are also relevant depending on the type of place you live in.
For clarity here’s a list of 10 key items landlords are required to provide (in most NYC rental buildings), followed by a list of what they are not—and you may be in for a surprise here.
1. Heat, and hot and cold water
During the winter months from October 1st through May 31st, when the mercury dips below 55 degrees outside, a landlord must provide heat for a temperature of 68 during the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.). At night there must be a temperature of at least 62 degrees maintained, regardless of the outside temperature.
This is what’s referred to as “heat season” and building owners face fines during this time if apartments are too cold.
2. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Landlords must provide and install at least one approved and operational carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector in each apartment. “The caveat here, is that you—the renter—must maintain a set of working batteries. At move-in, the apparatus must be working, but keeping it working is on you,” says Mike Jeneralczuk, an agent at Real NY.
If you break or remove a detector, you are required to replace it.
As for fire safety, all buildings with three or more apartments are required to have self-closing doors; a fire escape plan must be posted on the inside of every apartment door, common area, and distributed to each dwelling, new tenants, and annually during fire prevention week; and there must be clear unobstructed exits.
Also, if you’re thinking of installing a key-locked gate on your fire escape window, or a double cylinder lock, think again—they’re illegal.
3. Pest-free properties
Chances are you will come across a mouse or a roach (but hopefully not a rat) while living in a NYC apartment, and your landlord has an obligation to keep the building free of pests. Property owners are also required to use ongoing measures to prevent infestations in or around their buildings. This is a requirement of Local Law 55, passed in 2018. If mice, rats, or roaches are in either an apartment or common area, it’s a violation and the landlord faces fines.
Apartment building owners are also required to annually inspect units for indoor allergen hazards, including mice, rats, roaches, and mold.
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As for bedbugs, New York State law requires property owners to disclose infestation history dating back one year to new tenants through the bedbug disclosure form you get with a lease. They must also submit an annual report on bedbug infestations and eradication methods.
4. Lead-free walls
NYC banned the use of lead-based paint in residential buildings in 1960, but it can still exist in buildings built before then. The city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires landlords identify and remediate lead-based paint hazards in apartments where there are young children under the age of six years old.
5. Paint or wallpaper on the walls
Landlords need to paint or cover your apartment’s walls with wallpaper—so no exposed sheetrock—and they should also repaint or recover the walls every three years. Sarah Adler, an agent with Corcoran, says the requirement to repaint often comes as a pleasant surprise to renters.
“If someone is settling into a place and they have been there for five years or so, sometimes they are not even aware of the fact that they have the right to have that apartment painted every three years,” she says.
The only time the cost of painting can be passed to the tenant is if you request a special brand of paint or a particular color, or if you cause damage that requires a new paint job.
6. Windows and lighting
With some exceptions, every room, including kitchens and bathrooms, should have at least one window opening onto the street, yard, or other outdoor space. This applies to apartment buildings built after 1929 and is outlined in the Multiple Dwelling Law. Each window must properly light all portions of the room.
“There’s a formula, and it depends on the size of the room, but in order to qualify as a room it has to meet light and air requirements,” Himmelstein says.
If there isn’t a window—and Adler says many buildings do not have a window in the kitchen or the bathroom—there are ventilation requirements.
The law states there must be at least six changes per hour of the air volume of a cooking space without a window or if it is on the top floor, it can have a ventilated skylight at least one foot wide.
7. Window guards
Owners must provide and properly install window guards on all windows, including first-floor bathrooms and windows leading onto a balcony or terrace, in apartments where a child 10 years of age or younger resides, and in each common area window, if there are any.
Even if you don’t live with a child of 10 years or younger, but you want guards—say you have friends or family who bring young children to visit you—you can still request them and the landlord is required to install them.
You see window guards most often in pre-war buildings. Adler says in new construction, windows only open four inches for safety reasons, making the window guards redundant.
8. Locked front door and a peephole
“Most buildings must have a locked front door to provide some security so people can’t walk right into the building,” Himmelstein says.
In addition, your entry door should have a lock, and the landlord must give you at least one key to it. In an apartment building with more than three units, the door should have a heavy-duty deadbolt operable by a key from the outside and a thumb-turn from the inside, as well as a heavy-duty latch set. There should also be a chain door guard so you can partially open your door. This is all outlined in the Housing Maintenance Code.
There also should be an operating peephole in your entrance door, and located in a place that lets you view any person immediately outside the entrance door.
9. Mail service
The Housing Maintenance Code also makes clear landlords are required to provide and maintain approved mailboxes and directories of tenants so they can get their mail. With the rise of next day delivery and online shopping, landlords are unlikely to argue with this, because if they don’t provide mailboxes, they have to take in the mail themselves and get their own employees to distribute it.
10. Continuous amenities
The amenities you have are governed by your lease unless you live in a regulated apartment. Himmelstein says the Rent Stabilization Law has a concept called required services. “These are services provided to you when you moved in and they have to be maintained,” he says.
If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment and the landlord decides to take away the gym or the bike storage, they’d have to ask permission of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). Sometimes DHCR gives authorization but with conditions. For example, if the doorman is discontinued, the landlord must come up with a replacement that provides an equivalent level of security, which could be an intercom system or camera.
If the landlord does not ask permission or permission isn’t granted you can file for a reduction of services and your rent will be rolled back and frozen until the services are returned.
In a market-rate apartment, if a particular amenity is listed in the lease, like the laundry room or a doorman, then for the term of that lease they must be provided. If they are not it’s a breach of contract and the tenant would be entitled to some kind of damages, Himmelstein says.
10 things landlords are not required to provide
Many first-time renters in NYC have expectations about what will be included in an apartment but you might be surprised to find out what’s excluded from a landlord’s list of responsibilities. “The clear-cut answer is the lease defines what’s present,” Jeneralczuk says.
Below are some of the more common amenities and services you might find missing in a NYC rental.
1. Microwave and dishwasher
A lot of tenants, particularly new renters, assume a kitchen will come with a microwave, but it’s your responsibility to buy one if you want one. The same goes for the dishwasher. Of course a lot of landlords put these appliances in place in order to make their apartments more competitive and attract new tenants.
“Some clients from outside New York are shocked that landlords sometimes do not provide them. Sure, they’re present in a lot of apartments, but they come with a price tag and are definitely not a given,” Jeneralczuk says.
2. Air conditioner and installation
If landlords are required to keep the heat on in the winter, you might expect they’d have to provide cooling in the summer but that’s not the case. When you’re looking for a rental and viewing a listing you might even see an AC unit in the apartment, but find it’s gone by the time you move in.
Many NYC tenants buy their own in-window AC units and then take them with them when they leave.
If you purchase an AC, you’ll also be responsible for having it installed property. Your management company won’t pay for this but they may be able to give you the name of a contractor so the install can be done safely.
3. Refrigerator and stove
You’d be hard pressed to find an apartment without a refrigerator or stove but a landlord is not legally required to provide either of these appliances.
In some apartments the refrigerator is very small, or the stove might just be a cooktop or two burner as opposed to a full-size oven. Himmelstein says it’s possible the landlord could say the tenant has to provide their own appliances and repair them at their own expense.
Whatever appliances owners do provide, they are responsible for keeping them in working order. A landlord is also responsible for providing the gas to power a stove so even if you are asked to install your own appliance, the power must be there to make it function.
4. Window screens
Window screens are a provision that many people expect, but which landlords are not required to provide. Adler says this is often a surprise for tenants who find mosquitoes are a big problem in the city during the summer.
“Most windows can only open the four inches for New York City child safety, so depending on what kind of window it is, sometimes the screens need to be custom built,” she says. Another option is to purchase a tension screen that can be fitted into an open window but this is not a landlord’s responsibility.
5. Window shades and curtain rods
Many apartments are listed without curtains or blinds and if you don’t see them in the listing, don’t assume it’s because the owner is measuring up for an install. Landlords in NYC aren’t required to provide curtains or blinds for your windows. That’s on you.
6. Light bulb replacements
The lights should be working when you move in, but when the bulbs burn out, it’s your job to replace them.
7. Reimbursement for personal losses or damages
Landlords are not responsible if the apartment is damaged unless it is due to gross negligence.
If there’s a leak and some property gets damaged, the landlord is not responsible for your possessions. Occasionally, a landlord may agree to a settlement, but the solution is for tenants to have renter’s insurance. It’s not very expensive and covers these kinds of situations.
8. Top locks and replacement keys
A landlord needs to provide just one functioning lock on your apartment door. Any additional locks you might want for security are your responsibility.
If you lock yourself out and your super is not available to let you in, you will have to call a locksmith and pay for the new lock and keys.
A bedroom in NYC must be at least 80 square feet in size with at least one window but not all bedrooms come with closets. A tenant might ask a landlord to build a closet before moving in, or might ask for money toward buying a wardrobe, but that’s entirely up to the landlord and not a requirement.
10. Security of delivered packages
Package theft is an increasing issue as more people rely on online deliveries. It’s especially a challenge for walk-up buildings, which typically do not have a doorman.
A package left by a tenant’s front door which is then stolen is not the landlord’s responsibility. “Even if there is no package room and it is left in a vestibule, they are not responsible,” Adler says. A property manager might be able to help find out who stole the package through the video camera system but they are not liable for the loss.
Previous versions of this article included writing and reporting by Donna M. Airoldi.
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