Jeff McAdams' Tenant Protection Tips
10-21-10

How to Run A Business from Your Apartment
Without Interference from the Landlord

In the current economic environment, the number of renters who now run an enterprise or professional practice from their apartments 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.

If you decide to do this, it might be a violation of your lease terms. You could be sued by the landlord, especially if you’re in a rent-regulated unit. Common landlord allegations in these situations are that you’re in violation of city statutes and codes, are a nuisance to other tenants, or creating a building security issue with the extra traffic. These claims, if proved, can lead to eviction.

This is what you should do to avoid legal problems with your landlord if you want to work from your apartment:

  • You need the landlord’s permission to change the apartment. If you are intending to make alterations like modifying the plumbing or stove, or significantly increasing daily traffic or occupancy, it would be a good idea to check with a Tenants’ attorney first, rather than jeopardize your lease. You cannot do anything that can be deemed as changing the residential character of the building. A Housing Court judge might consider actions like these as being in that category.
  • Make sure you’re not in violation of any zoning laws. For example, according to the NYC Zoning Resolution, in a home business you cannot sell merchandise produced outside your apartment, put up exterior displays of what you sell (such as 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.”

    You don’t want to give 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 your advertising. You may want to use an inexpensive mailbox service for your mailing address in the ads. This doesn’t stop you from bringing customers or clients to your apartment when they call.
  • Certain types of business activities are governed by additional regulations. For example, the City has special rules about childcare services. If you were to run a day care or baby sitting service, you’d need to be fully aware of them and in compliance. Ask your lawyer to check to see if your line of work has additional legal requirements.
  • For a home business you may want to take a tax deduction, but your landlord can find out from your tax filings how you say you are using the apartment. This might be a problem if the landlord tries to prove 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. You are not entitled to the protection of rent-stabilization or rent-control laws for an apartment that is not your primary residence.

    Be sure your apartment looks like you live there, and be prepared to prove it. A collection of weekly receipts from local establishments in your neighborhood, such as restaurants, grocery stores, banks, etc., is one effective source of evidence that you reside there.

Aside from observing these five 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.

Please Note: Every McAdams Law Tenant Protection Tip and article is for informational purposes only and cannot substitute for legal advice. Before taking action, consult an experienced New York Landlord Tenant attorney about your situation. Beware that being a party in a lawsuit in New York City’s Housing Court can subject you to blacklisting. Please see more details here.

McAdams Law
305 Broadway, Suite 610
New York, NY 10007
212-406-5145
Fax: (212) 619-0714

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