Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer

Ask Sam: What are my rights as a market-rate tenant?

Their rights are not as extensive as those of stabilized tenants, but market-rate tenants are still entitled to some legal protections.

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Question:

I just moved into a building as a market-rate tenant. Many of my neighbors are rent-stabilized. I know they have more protections than me, but do I have any rights?

Answer:

Rent-stabilized tenants are entitled to certain protections that market-rate tenants are not, but you still have a number of rights you should be aware of, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph LLP who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

The following rights apply to all New York City tenants, regardless of whether they are living in rent-stabilized apartments:

  • The right to sublet: Under New York State real property law, tenants can sublet their apartments—even if their leases say otherwise. “A lot of these statutes have a provision that says any agreement by a tenant to waive this right is void,” Himmelstein says, meaning that even if you’ve signed a lease that includes a rider forbidding subletting, you can still do so. Note that you must follow specific procedures to sublet legally, including sending your landlord a notice of your intent to sublease with detailed information about your subletter through certified mail. If your landlord unreasonably withholds their consent for you to sublet, you can proceed with the sublet, and defend the case that the landlord starts against you in   housing court by demonstrating that you followed the sublet procedures and the landlord unreasonably refused to consent.  .
  • The right to a roommate: This right is also enshrined by state law, “even if the lease says the apartment can only be occupied by the tenant and the tenant’s immediate family,” Himmelstein says. As long as you inform your landlord within 30 days after the roommate moves in, that roommate can legally occupy the apartment with you.
  • The right not to be retaliated against: Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who have filed complaints, enforced their own rights under the lease, or joined a tenants’ association, according to New York law.   
  • The right to participate in a tenants association: All tenants are legally permitted to create, join, or participate in a tenants association. (For information on forming a tenants association, click here.)
  • The right to occupy your apartment until the lease expires: Provided that you don’t do anything in breach of your lease—like illegally subletting it through Airbnb or keeping a pet in a no-pets building—or are being a nuisance—creating a safety hazard or damaging property, for instance—you have the right to remain in your apartment until the lease expires. “The biggest difference is that once that lease expires, you don’t have a right to renew it without your landlord’s agreement, whereas stabilized tenants do, unless the landlord has grounds for evicting them,” Himmelstein says.
  • The right to a habitable apartment: “Your landlord has to comply with the warranty of habitability, provide essential services, and comply with the NYC Housing and Maintenance Code,” Himmelstein says. This guarantees you necessities like heat and hot water, treatment in the case of a pest infestation, and repairs and maintenance of your apartment.
  • The right to quietly enjoy the apartment: This is a guarantee, Himmelstein explains, not of quiet—perhaps an impossibility in NYC—but that your landlord can’t impede your peaceful use of the apartment. “It means you occupy the space to the exclusion of all others during the team of your lease,” he says.
  • The right not to be discriminated against: Under the city’s Human Rights Law, landlords cannot discriminate against prospective tenants on the basis of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, and a number of other protected categories. The same applies to tenants’ roommates.
  • The right not to be harassed: The city outlaws landlords harassing their tenants by serving unlawful eviction notices, threatening tenants, withholding necessary repairs, and more. 
  • The right to recover legal fees: “You have a right to recover your legal fees if your landlord takes you to court and you win, provided there’s a lease clause that permits the landlord to recover fees, too,” Himmelstein says.

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Read all our Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer columns here.


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 at [email protected] or call (212) 349-3000.