Running Businesses From Apartments Without Interference from the Landlord

In the current economic environment with growing "gig-economies," the number of renters running enterprises or professional practices from homes is steadily increasing. Some have needed to cut their expenses sharply to survive. Other have lost their employment, and set up their own shops as an alternative to a job.

Businesses with lots of traffic in-and-out or noisy manufacturing probably violate residential lease terms and may invite the landlord to sue, especially for rent-regulated tenants. Common landlord allegations in these situations include violating city laws, being a nuisance to other tenants, or creating a security issue with the extra traffic. If proved, these claims can lead to eviction.

Here are some strategies to avoid legal problems with your landlord if you want to work from your apartment:

  • Without the landlord's permission, don't change the apartment. Alterations that jeopardize your lease include modifying the electrical system or plumbing or stove or significantly increasing traffic or occupancy, so check with a Tenants' attorney rather than recklessly making such changes. And don't do anything that can be deemed to change the residential character of the building.
  • Make sure you don't violate zoning laws. According to the NYC Zoning Resolution, home-businesses should not sell merchandise produced outside the home or put up exterior displays of what is for sale (such as placing merchandise in your window or a sign on the building) or use more than a quarter of the area in your apartment for the business "accessory use." To avoid giving the landlord more ammo to augment a claim against you do your homework in advance. Your lawyer can help with this.
  • Be careful about what you say in advertising. Consider using an inexpensive mailbox service for your mailing address in ads. This doesn't necessarily stop you from bringing the occasional customer or client to your apartment.
  • Additional regulations govern some business activities. For example, the City has special rules about childcare services. If you run a day care or baby sitting service, be fully aware of and in compliance with them. Ask your lawyer to check your line of work for additional legal requirements.
  • You do not have a right to rent-stabilization's lease renewal process or to rent-control protections for an apartment that is not your primary residence. For a home business, taking a tax deduction for the rent may notify your landlord how you say you are using the apartment. This might support the landlord's proof it is not your "primary residence." The danger is greater if you own or have an interest in other property, such as a weekend or vacation home. So bear these factors in mind.
  • Be sure your apartment looks like you live there and be prepared to prove it is your main home. Keep receipts from local establishments in your neighborhood for personal expenses (such as restaurants, grocery stores, banks, etc.) as evidence supporting the claim you reside there.

Aside from observing these key points, the best plan for staying out of trouble is to keep a low profile, and not attract the landlord's attention in the first place.

Never Replace Anything That Isn't Yours

Appliances and fixtures in your apartment supplied under the initial lease are required and legally the landlord's property. If you replace any of them, it's grounds for eviction. Let's say you throw out the refrigerator and replace it with an expensive, upscale unit. Even if you agree to turn over possession of it to the landlord, it was illegal to discard the landlord's property unless your landlord consented. Your landlord might use this to terminate your lease. For example, there are court cases in which tenants have replaced kitchen cabinets without the landlord's permission. The only way they were able to retain their tenancies was by reinstalling the original fixtures. So don't even think about making these changes without written permission from your landlord.

Call Attorney Jeffrey McBride To Learn More

To schedule a consultation about tenant rights, call my office at 212-257-9425 or send an email to arrange a consultation.