Tenants’ Rights

As a tenant, you have certain rights under the law. For example, you have a legal right to organize with other tenants and form or join tenant organizations to protect your rights. Your landlord must permit your tenant group to have meetings, at no cost, in any community or social room in your building. This is true even where the use of the room usually requires payment of a fee.

You have a right to privacy inside your apartment. Unless there is an emergency, like a fire or flood, your landlord can only enter your apartment if the landlord first gives you reasonable notice and enters at a reasonable time (usually during business hours). Also, the landlord can only enter your apartment for the following reasons:

  • To provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services;
  • In accordance with  the terms of your lease; or
  • To show the apartment to prospective purchasers or tenants.

If you are disabled, you have a right to have your landlord give you reasonable accommodations so you can enjoy equal access to housing. Your landlord must allow you to make reasonable structural modifications to your apartment if they are necessary to allow you to fully use your apartment, like building a ramp or installing grab bars in the bathroom. If you have a disability as defined under either Federal, State or New York City laws, you have a right to an accommodation animal that would be medically helpful to you. This could be a guide dog, service animal, or emotional support animal. Under a recent New York City law, a housing provider must respond to any request for such accommodation and have a discussion with you about your request for an accommodation. There have been similar rules under the Federal laws that a housing provider must engage in what’s called “the interactive process.” Your landlord cannot refuse to have a discussion with you about your request for an accommodation and cannot simply tell you no without reason. Nothing in your lease can diminish your rights under these laws.

You have a right not to be discriminated against by your landlord, or potential landlord, on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, marital status or familial status. In New York City, you are also protected from discrimination on the basis of lawful occupation, sexual orientation, partnership status, immigration status, having AIDS or being HIV-positive, or being a recovering alcoholic. In New York City, you also have the right not to be discriminated against based on your lawful source of income, including income from social security or any form of federal, state or local public assistance, such as Section 8.

Your landlord cannot retaliate against you for exercising your rights. For example, your landlord cannot try to evict you just because you made a good faith complaint to a government agency about health or safety issues, or because you tried to protect your rights under the lease, or because you participated in a tenant organization.

You have a right not to be harassed by your landlord, including physical or verbal abuse, willful denial of services, attempts to get you to move even for the non-payment of money, or repeated frivolous lawsuits against you. If your landlord lies or deliberately misrepresents the law to you, this may be considered a type of harassment. You have an equal right to win legal fees from your landlord in any disputes when your lease gives the landlord such rights.

Legal Editors: David Kaminsky and Darryl Vernon, December 2014 (updated August 2020)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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