There are many different universal rules that govern the landlord/tenant relationship. However, much of the relationship is governed by the lease agreement. This includes what amenities landlords will provide, when rent is due and the amount of rent, the length of the lease, rules regarding terminating the lease and renewing the lease and many others. There are also usually provisions that state what rights the landlord has if a tenant violates the lease and the landlord is forced to take legal action against them in a landlord/tenant dispute.
One common clause is that the tenant is required to pay the landlord's attorney fees if they are required to enforce their rights. Oftentimes it is silent on what happens if the tenant has to bring the landlord to court or if the tenant successfully defends a claim that the landlord brings against them.
This is one instance where the universal rules protect the tenant. The law states that if a lease agreement contains a clause stating the tenant has to pay the landlord's legal fees, then the clause automatically works both ways. So, if the tenant successfully brings a legal action against the landlord or successfully defends against a landlord's claim, the landlord will have to pay the tenant's legal fees, including attorneys' fees. This right cannot be waived in any lease either.
There are many landlord/tenant disputes in New York. Usually, the landlord has the upper hand because of the way leases are written and oftentimes they have more legal resources than the tenants. However, tenants have many rights as well and should be able to protect them in the same fashion as landlords. This includes being able to hire an attorney if they would like to do that.
Source: codes.findlaw.com, "New York Consolidated Laws, Property Laws - RPP § 234. Tenants' right to recover attorneys' fees in actions or summary proceedings arising out of leases of residential property," accessed Nov. 13, 2017