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I'm taking over a lease. What, if anything, does my landlord have to do before I move in?

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Question:

I'm taking over a lease. Is it true that the landlord doesn't have to paint before I move in? What does he have to do? Is there anything else I should be aware of?

Answer:

It all depends on timing, say our experts.

"New York City landlords are required to paint every three years, but it is a law that is difficult to enforce," says Gordon Roberts of Sotheby's International Realty."Landlords typically do some renovations in between tenants while the unit is unoccupied, but in your case, since you’re taking over a lease, they may not feel compelled to paint, especially if it was painted less than three years ago."

That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask, though. The managing agent might agree to a compromise, "like providing the paint if you supply the labor," says Roberts. "If the exiting tenant has painted the apartment any color besides white, they might hold them liable for re-painting the apartment to its original white before allowing you to assume the lease. You wouldn't want their purple paint job to become your responsibility, anyway."

There are some instances, such as "if the paint was damaged, peeling, flaking or stained," when a landlord would have to paint before the three-year period is up, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (FYI, he's a Brick sponsor).

Generally speaking though, says Himmelstein, "there isn’t much more that the landlord is required to do other than deliver the apartment in habitable condition—no bugs, heat and hot water functioning, appliances, plumbing and windows working."

Maggie Fanney, an agent with Triplemint, suggests reaching out to the management company with any questions before you take over the lease and move in. 

"I've seen situations where the landlord refuses to repaint, or is open to repainting, and even cases where the listing agent is paying for the apartment to be repainted or at least cleaned," says Fanney. (Note: sometimes to get their leases taken over as quickly as possible, the current renter will hire a broker to help him or her find a new tenant.)

In addition to asking if the landlord will repaint and clean the apartment before you move in, she says, "there are a couple other questions you should be asking before taking over a lease. First, get the details on your lease terms. Are you beginning a brand new 12-month lease with the landlord, or are you taking over the remainder of the current tenant's lease? Knowing these details will prevent any surprises when you are ready to renew the lease. 
 
"Second, you should find out if the current tenant is subsidizing your rent. If a current tenant is desperate to break their lease and find a new tenant, they might offer to pay a portion of the rent for the rest of their lease term," she says. "This means you pay a bit less than the landlord is charging every month, which is great in the short term. However, you should be aware of this and make sure you are financially comfortable with the true monthly rent."

More broadly, you want to make sure that the person whose lease you're taking over has gone through the appropriate steps. 
 
"The managing agent or landlord should be fully informed and approve of you as the new leaseholder, and it would be prudent to have a real estate attorney eyeball the lease, oversee how your security deposit would be handled, as well as any required disclosures, such as the presence of lead-based paint," says Roberts.
 

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