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October 2012 Archives

Have Your Lease if You Deal with the Police

Some disputes between landlords and tenants escalate to calling the police. Cops are supposed to stop landlords from breaking the law and illegally evicting tenants. Unfortunately, some officers can be biased and willing to support the landlord in throwing you out of your apartment, even without court process. However, if you can show your lease or other evidence the apartment is your home to the officer, then sections 117-11 and 214-12 of the New York Police Department Patrol Guide require the police to assist illegally evicted tenants. Keep a copy of your lease with a trusted friend or family member, or have it available digitally or from another easily accessible source in case of an eviction emergency. If you don't have a written lease, be able to show utility accounts at the apartment in your name and keep official mail that comes to you at the address. If you don't get police cooperation, usually your safest option is to go to Housing Court immediately for an order to show cause to regain possession.

Beware the Self-Renewing Lease

Landlords who own smaller properties sometimes use non-standard leases, or have unusual language in lease agreements that can create problems for tenants. A clause that specifies that the lease automatically renews unless the landlord elects to end the tenancy, or receives notice you're terminating, can be problematic when you move out. These clauses force you to be clear about ending your tenancy and surrendering the premises to the landlord. Do this in writing sent by regular mail and certified mail, by the time the lease specifies, or at least thirty days prior to last the day of the lease. Also, when you give back the keys, get a receipt acknowledging that you returned them and are surrendering the premises to the landlord. Otherwise, you may find that the landlord attempts to sue you later on, claiming that you have continued your tenancy even though you're no longer a resident.

Get $100 From Your Landlord If Your Judgment Isn't Vacated In 20 Days

In a nonpayment proceeding, if you agree to pay the back rent, the landlord's lawyer will usually require the written agreement (or "stipulation") to include a judgment against you for the sum, with possession of the apartment if you don't pay. This means that if you don't pay on time, the marshal can evict you, and after being evicted you will still owe the money.

Protecting Heat, Hot Water, and Electricity

Particularly in smaller buildings, landlords are sometimes delinquent in paying utility bills for oil, gas, electricity, or water. By law, utility companies must notify the tenants in buildings before shutting off service. Tenants then have the opportunity to make payments themselves for the services, and can deduct these charges from the rent. If you're facing this situation in your building, it's an opportunity to organize a Tenants' Association, and band together to protect your rights. Then hire a Tenants' lawyer who has experience representing tenants collectively and knows how and when to negotiate, or to implement a rent strike.

In Dire Straits, Call the City's Emergency Repair Unit

If there's an emergency condition in your apartment or building, like a major water leak, sewage back-up, or no heat or hot water, you can call 311 to complain to the Emergency Repair Unit. Explain the situation and request an immediate inspection. Don't be shy about calling several times if necessary, to create a record of your complaints and get results. The more tenants in the building who call to report the emergency, the more likely there'll be prompt action. When the landlord does not take action to correct severe problems, City workers may do the repairs and the City will bill the landlord. Whenever conditions are not as they should be and the landlord doesn't repair them quickly, you should speak to a Tenants' lawyer about getting a rent abatement to compensate you for bad conditions and loss of building services.

Few Roommate Rights If Your Name Is Not On The Lease

If you are sharing an apartment with others and your name isn't on the lease, your legal rights to stay are very limited. Once the leaseholder moves out, or the lease terminates for any reason, the landlord need not accept you as a tenant. You can be evicted when the named tenant's occupancy agreement ends. That's because you are not a tenant, only a "licensee," or someone who is there by permission on a temporary basis.

Beware "Inspect and Repair As Necessary"

If you're in court fighting with the landlord over repairs and finally agree on a settlement, the stipulation's wording is critical. The landlord's lawyer may try to be as vague as possible with wording concerning landlord obligations, using phrases like "inspect the apartment and repair as necessary." Be sure to list specific conditions and instead say: "repair if defective." Then, when you write the completion date, it pins the landlord down on what items are at issue and when repairs must be finished. If something isn't done on time, the only argument should be whether it is defective. Still, it's better to have your own Tenants' attorney review papers before you sign them. Few non-attorney tenants are knowledgeable enough to draft legal language.

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