City Comptroller Proposes 'Tenant Bill of Rights' Flyer with Every Lease
City Comptroller Scott Stringer recently issued a policy brief calling for a “Tenant Bill of Rights” to be provided in every lease packet. He’s calling for legislation that would mandate this communication. Stringer believes current leases are confusing to tenants and can hide information due to fine print and obscure language. His solution is to incorporate with every lease a Bill of Rights that would serve as a reminder of the rights and expectations of tenants and owners.
Stringer likened the approach to current city laws regarding window guards, which owners must offer at every lease signing to all tenants with children. He also points to an analysis of 311 data as evidence of a knowledge gap among renters. Despite the array of legal protections and resources available to renters, too often tenants are left to hunt for help. According to data from 2010 to present, residential issues are the most common reason for dialing 311. HPD-related calls made up the greatest number of requests, with more than 5.8 million calls. Indeed, 27 percent of all service requests to 311 involved the agency. And of the 25 most often-cited complaints, housing issues like noise, heat, and water make up the majority of complaints.
While the content of any such Bill of Rights could take many forms, under the proposal, it would communicate a number of rental provisions and Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act protections:
Applications and Security Deposits
- Tenants can’t be charged a fee for an apartment application beyond a $20 charge to cover the cost of background and credit checks.
- Security deposits must be limited to one month’s rent.
- Tenants have the right to have the landlord join them in a “walk-through” inspection to determine the condition of the apartment prior to moving in and out and give them a written agreement documenting all damages even after the lease is signed.
- The landlord has 14 days after the tenant vacates the apartment to give the tenant an itemized statement indicating the specific damages, the amount it will deduct from the security deposit, and the remaining portion of the deposit. If not done within those 14 days, the landlord must return the full deposit amount to the tenant.
- It’s illegal for landlords to discriminate in the rental of housing based on actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender (including gender identity), disability, age, marital or familial status, the presence of children, lawful occupation, sexual orientation, immigration status, or domestic violence status.
- Tenants are protected against discrimination based on a lawful source of income: Landlords may not refuse to rent to applicants based on an applicant’s intention to pay the rent using child support, Social Security, Section 8, or another rent subsidy.
Heat and Hot Water
- Landlords must provide tenants with both hot and cold water. From 6 a.m. to midnight, hot water must register at or above a constant temperature of 120 degrees at the tap, and 110 degrees for tubs or showers equipped with anti-scald valves.
- Landlords have a duty to provide heat and maintain 68°F between Oct. 1 and May 31 (between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.) when the outside temperature is below 55°F, and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when the outside temperature is below 40°F.
- The building must be kept in good repair, including clean hallways and public areas, new apartment paint every three years, and extermination services for any rats, mice, roaches, bedbugs, or vermin. Electrical, plumbing, heating, and appliances must be kept in good working order. Tenants are entitled to be free of nuisance or harassment by the landlord or other tenants.
- The landlord has a duty to conduct repairs even if the tenant has complained or taken legal action.
- Tenants can’t be required to pay rent using an electronic billing or payment system.
- Tenants have a five-day grace period for late rent payment. Late fees are capped at $50 or 5 percent of the monthly rent, whichever is less.
- In the case of nonpayment proceedings, tenants have 10 days to appear or file before a default can occur.
Eviction and Renewal
- A landlord must seek a court warrant to evict a tenant, and unlawful evictions and attempts to force tenants to vacate are civil and criminal offenses.
- If the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, the tenant may terminate his or her lease early if not doing so exposes the tenant or the tenant’s child to substantial risk of physical or emotional harm.
Tenants 62 and Older
- If the tenant or the tenant’s spouse is 62 years old or older, the tenant is entitled to terminate the lease if the tenant is relocating to an adult care facility, a residential health care facility, subsidized low-income housing, or other senior citizen housing.
The proposed flyer would also list the contact information and the responsibilities of agencies and offices that oversee housing rights from HPD and the Attorney General’s Office to the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. Enacting Stringer’s recommendation would require the City Council to approve the policy brief into law.