Landlord-tenant law has become increasingly complex over the years. Housing codes, rent regulations, government subsidy programs, and requirements for eviction proceedings have all contributed to this. New York in particular heavily regulates residential landlord-tenant relationships. Whether you are a landlord or tenant, here is what you need to know about the types of disputes commonly seen in both the residential and commercial contexts, how they arise, and how a landlord-tenant lawyer can help.
Nonpayment of Rent
The duty to pay rent is implied in all leases. A tenant generally will not be relieved of the obligation to pay rent as long as the landlord fulfills its duty to deliver full possession of the premises to the tenant. If a tenant prematurely vacates the premises, the tenant will still be liable for rent unless the landlord concedes to the tenant’s surrender. Otherwise, a landlord may pursue the following legal options:
- A summary nonpayment proceeding to recoup unpaid rent
- Termination of tenancy upon the tenant’s failure to cure and commence a holdover proceeding
- A lawsuit to recover possession, unpaid rent, and/or the fair market value of the continued use or occupancy
Maintenance and Repairs
Landlords usually maintain some responsibility for the condition of the space. Courts have routinely found that a landlord has a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the premises over which the landlord retains control. More recently, courts have determined that landlords have ongoing maintenance responsibilities. A tenant may have a viable claim for breach when the landlord deprives the tenant of essential services required by the lease and interferes with the tenant’s use of the space.
A number of remedies may be available to a commercial tenant, including suspension of rent and surrender of premises. Landlords who are contractually obligated to make repairs and/or maintain the premises, or who reserve the right to reenter, inspect, and make needed repairs, may be held liable in negligence for injuries caused by significant structural or design defects. For residential leases, landlords must take precautions to protect tenants from foreseeable harm.
Tenants also have a duty to ensure that the premises they occupy and possess are free from defects and are kept in a reasonably safe condition. When a tenant fails to do so, the landlord may pursue any remedy specifically provided for in the lease agreement or go to court to seek equitable and/or injunctive relief and monetary damages.
New York tenants can be evicted for a host of reasons. The most common sources are the failure to pay rent or lease violations. Landlords must follow certain procedures in order to legally evict a tenant. In cases involving the failure to pay rent, a landlord must give the tenant notice or a demand for rent. If the tenant does not pay the outstanding rent or move out within a certain period of time, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings in Housing Court.
Evictions for lease violations also require giving prior notice to allow the tenant to fix the violation. If the violation is not fixed, then the landlord must give the tenant a notice of termination which would allow the landlord to file an eviction lawsuit if the tenant does not move out by a certain period of time.
Use of the premises
Tenants have a duty to utilize the premises for legal purposes. This duty is distinct from any use restrictions or other covenants contained in the lease. It is also different from the duty to comply with statutes and regulations. An illegal use of the premises will immediately terminate the tenancy, and a landlord will generally not be required to comply with notice requirements prior to pursuing eviction. Tenancies subject to rent regulation, however, may only be terminated on proper notice.
Unless the lease says otherwise, a tenant is not required to actually use and occupy the premises. However, commercial leases routinely tie rent payments to a percentage of the tenant’s earnings. In those cases, courts may find an implied duty on the part of the tenant to occupy the commercial space and conduct its business operations.
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Levy Goldenberg LLP represents both landlords and tenants in a wide variety of disputes throughout New York City. We are well-versed in all aspects of real estate litigation and are ready to advise you of your legal options. Contact us today to discuss your case.