As a tenant, you have certain rights under the law. For instance, 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 meeting, 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 to do the following:
- Provide necessary or agreed upon repairs or services;
- Accordance to 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 are blind or deaf, you can have a guide dogs or service dogs, even if your lease does not allow it. If you have a chronic mental illness, you may have a right to have an emotional assistance animal, regardless of what your lease says about pets.
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 and 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 an honest 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, or repeated lawsuits against you. If your landlord lies or deliberately misrepresents the law to you, this may be considered a type of harassment.
Legal Editor: Jennifer Addonizio Rozen, December 2014 (updated February 2016)
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.