What a Landlord Cannot Do in New York

What a Landlord Cannot Do in New York

Last Updated: February 21, 2024 by Roberto Valenzuela

New York law prohibits or regulates many potential landlord actions and policies. Find out what’s allowed, when they’re allowed, and what the consequences may be for illegal landlord actions.

1. Retaliate

Landlords in New York cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights under the law. A tenant’s legal rights may include reporting violations to a local health board or withholding rent because of a landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs.

Actions that may constitute retaliation include:

  • Increasing rent
  • Terminating a lease
  • Evicting a tenant
  • Decreasing services or access to amenities

Consequences for Landlords Who Retaliate

Landlords who retaliate are at risk of having the tenant terminate the lease and sue the landlord. If a court decides the landlord has retaliated against the tenant, the following penalties may be assessed:

  • Damages equivalent to one month’s rent or more
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

When Can a Landlord Retaliate?

Under landlord-tenant law in New York, there is never a time that a landlord can retaliate against a tenant for exercising their rights.

However, actions that may seem retaliatory can be legal if within the law. For instance, a landlord may increase the rent at the end of the lease term, and terminate a lease or evict a tenant for violating the terms of the agreement.

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2. Discriminate

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot discriminate against a tenant based on protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Discriminatory acts include:

  • Harassing tenants
  • Refusing to rent and making housing unavailable to a tenant
  • Setting different terms and conditions for certain tenants
  • Providing different services to certain tenants

A landlord does not provide reasonable accommodations to persons in wheelchairs such as ramps.

Consequences for Landlords Who Discriminate

Landlords who discriminate are at risk of having the tenant terminate the lease and sue the landlord. When suing the landlord, a tenant may either file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the federal court in the jurisdiction where the tenant resides.

If either HUD or a federal court decides the landlord has discriminated against the tenant, the tenant may be eligible for the following remedies:

  • Compensation for actual damages
  • Injunctive relief
  • Equitable relief such as providing alternative housing
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees
  • Payment of civil penalties

When Can a Landlord Discriminate?

In New York, a landlord can never discriminate against a tenant, except in one instance. The exception is known as the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption.

The “Mrs. Murphy” exemption applies to a dwelling with four or fewer rental units where the owner lives in one of those units. In this situation only, a landlord is exempt from Fair Housing Act requirements and may discriminate against some tenants.


Racial discrimination is banned in all cases. A Mrs. Murphy exemption does not allow a landlord to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of race.

Furthermore, the exemption does not apply to rental advertisements. For example, the owner of the dwelling cannot be discriminatory in their advertisements by saying that people of a certain sexual orientation or race need not apply just because the dwelling itself is exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

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3. Evict Without Cause

In New York, landlords cannot evict a tenant or force them to vacate the rental premises without legal cause that a tenant violated the lease.

A landlord may have legal grounds for evicting a tenant if the tenant:

  • Does not pay rent on time
  • Stays after the lease ends
  • Violates the lease terms
  • Does not uphold legal responsibilities

Consequences for Landlords Who Evict Tenants Without Cause

Landlords who evict their tenants without legal cause will be liable to the tenant for certain damages. If a court finds the landlord evicted the tenant without cause, the landlord may be liable for:

  • One month’s rent plus $500
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

Once a court finds there was no cause for eviction, tenants will be allowed to re-enter the premises.

When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant?

In New York, a landlord cannot legally evict a tenant without cause. However, a landlord would be able to evict a tenant on legal grounds such as the tenant not paying rent on time, staying after the lease ends, violating lease terms or not upholding responsibilities under New York law.

Eviction proceedings include:

  • Warrant of Eviction
  • Filing of the Eviction Suit
  • Judgment
  • Appeal
  • Writ of Possession

Ensure that the tenant has violated the lease terms prior to initiating an eviction lawsuit.

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4. Increase Rent During the Lease Term

A landlord in New York cannot raise the rent as often as they want nor increase it by an unreasonable amount during the life of the lease term. A rent increase will be illegal if it is done in any of three instances:

  • Before the expiration of the current lease
  • For discriminatory reasons, or in a discriminatory way
  • As an act of retaliation

Consequences for Landlords Who Raise Rent

Unless written into the lease, a landlord cannot increase rent prior to the end of the contract. When landlords do raise the rent for the aforementioned reasons, they will be in violation of the lease, and the tenant will be able to terminate the lease. Landlords may also be charged fines and penalties associated with increasing rent.


Before raising the rent, a landlord should ensure that it is done after the lease term has ended. If the proper procedure is outlined in the lease, those procedures should be  followed.

When Can a Landlord Increase the Rent?

A landlord can increase rent at the end of any lease term. A lease is a legally binding contract, and the landlord must abide by the terms, including the set monthly rent. When a lease expires, the landlord can raise the rent and allow the tenant the chance to renew at the new rate. In both New York City and in the state generally, the property may be subject to rent control laws which limit the amount of a rent increase.

If the lease is for two years, the landlord can only raise the rent every two years, but if it’s a month-to-month lease, they can raise it every 30 days if they so choose.

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5. Withhold Security Deposits

In New York, a landlord may not withhold the tenant’s security deposit for any disallowed reason.

For example, a landlord would be unable to withhold the security deposit for property damage incurred from normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear is deterioration or damage that happens as a result of a tenant living in and using the rental unit in a reasonable manner.

Consequences for Landlords Who Withhold Security Deposits

A landlord who withholds a tenant’s security deposit will be responsible for repaying the tenant the whole security deposit amount. Furthermore, the landlord may also be on the hook for attorney’s fees and three times the amount of the security deposit.

When Can a Landlord Withhold a Tenant’s Security Deposit?

A landlord will be able to withhold a tenant’s security deposit for certain reasons. These reasons include:

  • Damages incurred because of lease breaches
  • Damages not normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid monthly rent
  • Unpaid utilities
  • Cleaning fees at the end of the lease
  • Expenses incurred in securing a new tenant
  • Lease cancellation fees

Should there be any deductions, the landlord must provide an itemized list of deductions that were made within 30 days.

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6. Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

Landlords in New York cannot violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment, which is an implied term in every lease that guarantees the tenant will have quiet and peaceful possession of the leased premises.

There are several ways a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment can be violated. Some common examples of violations include:

  • Entering the tenant’s premises without providing adequate notice
  • Allowing too much noise that interferes with the tenant’s enjoyment of the premises
  • Not taking the necessary precautions to keep the premises safe
  • Allowing the tenant to be harassed by other tenants
  • Locking out the tenant from the premises

A landlord would be in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment if they refuse to fix broken locks allowing strangers to enter the premises.

Consequences for Landlords Who Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

There are different recourse options that tenants can take when their rights are violated, including but not limited to:

  • Refusing to pay rent
  • Bringing legal action
  • Terminating the lease

Any of these actions would have a negative impact on the landlord. The landlord could also be liable for compensation such as moving expenses, attorney’s fees and other expenses.

When Can a Landlord Violate the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

In New York, a landlord cannot violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment under any circumstances.

However, actions that seem to violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment may be legal in certain circumstances. For example, a landlord may enter the premises without providing notice to the tenant, in the event of an emergency.


A landlord enters into a tenant’s premise because there is evidence of a crime.

7. Violate the Warranty of Habitability

In New York, landlords must uphold the implied warranty of habitability, which is guaranteed in leases and ensures that the leased premises meet habitability requirements.

There are several ways a landlord may violate the warranty of habitability. Some common examples of violations include:

  • Broken locks
  • Lack of proper plumbing
  • Lack of utilities such as heat, electricity and water
  • Failure to exterminate a rodent infestation

Failure to repair a heating system in winter, after proper notice, is a landlord violation of the warranty of habitability.

Consequences for Landlords Who Violate the Warranty of Habitability

When a landlord violates the warranty of habitability, a tenant is entitled to relief such as:

  • A court order directing the landlord to repair the condition
  • A court order reducing the tenant’s rent
  • A judgment for one month’s rent plus $500
  • A judgment for actual damages
  • Any court and attorneys’ fees

When Can a Landlord Violate the Warranty of Habitability?

Landlords in New York cannot violate the warranty of habitability at any time.

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8. Commit Constructive Eviction

A landlord in New York cannot constructively evict tenants from the leased premises.

Constructive eviction is a circumstance where the landlord’s action or failure to act completely prevents the reasonable use of the property for its intended purposes. The issue(s) must be extreme to meet this standard. The tenant usually must move out to claim constructive eviction.

Examples of constructive eviction include:

  • Failure to provide heating
  • Failure to rid of a pest infestation
  • Making the property uninhabitable
  • Violating the quiet enjoyment of tenants

Consequences for Landlords Who Constructively Evict Tenants

New York law treats constructive eviction as an unlawful eviction in terms of landlord liability. If a court finds the landlord constructively evicted the tenant without cause, the landlord may be liable for:

  • One months’ rent plus $500
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place
  • Attorney fees and costs
  • Injunctive relief

Once a court finds there was no cause for eviction, tenants will be allowed to return into the leased premises.

When Can a Landlord Constructively Evict a Tenant?

In New York, a landlord cannot withhold services or force out a tenant so as to constructively evict them.

Although, if a tenant has violated the lease terms, then the landlord can perform actions that are generally associated with constructive eviction. After lease termination, landlords are not contractually obligated to provide the mandatory services outlined in the lease.

9. Defraud Tenants

When landlords communicate with tenants, they cannot make any statements under false pretenses, which may lead the tenant to believe something that is not true.

There are many ways in which a landlord can commit fraud, including: 

  • Making a false or misleading oral or written statement 
  • Representing that the property has a characteristic or use that it does not have
  • Falsely representing that the property is of a particular standard, quality, or style
  • Failing to state a material fact if that failure deceives or tends to deceive
  • Putting a clause in a lease that waives the tenant’s right to use a legal defense.


A landlord may not notify a prospective tenant that the rental premise is safe, while being aware the locks are broken and there have been recent break-ins.

Consequences for Landlords Who Defraud Tenants

Landlords who defraud current and prospective tenants may face litigation. Depending on the court, the tenant may be entitled to:

  • Economic damages
  • Statutory fraud damages
  • Exemplary damages
  • Mental anguish damages
  • Attorney fees
  • Equitable relief
  • Declaratory judgment

When Can a Landlord Defraud Tenants?

In New York, landlords cannot defraud tenants under any circumstance.

10. Fail To Pass State Inspections

Prior to renting out leased premises, landlords must register the rental premises with the proper authorities. Landlords must then conduct a proper inspection so that the premises are in a habitable condition for the tenant.

Consequences for Landlords Failing to Pass State Inspections

Failure to register the premises and conduct an inspection may lead to fines and other taxes.

When Can a Landlord Fail to Pass State Inspections?

Landlords must always pass state inspections to lease out the rental property.

Can a Landlord Deny Sublessees or Assignees?

Unless prior written consent has already been granted, a landlord can prohibit a tenant from subletting in New York. A landlord reserves the right to deny any and all future requests from a tenant to sublease. However, a landlord cannot deny a qualified sublessee or assignee.

A qualified sublessee or assignee is one that:

  • Has the financial ability to continue paying the rent
  • Passes the background check
  • Is a high character individual who will not cause the landlord trouble

New York City does, under specific conditions, allow a tenant to sublease a room to a roommate and the roommate’s dependent children, without the landlord’s consent. This regulation is known as New York City’s “Roommate Law.”

Consequences for Landlords Who Deny Qualified Sublessees or Assignees

When a landlord denies a qualified subtenant or assignee, the original tenant may sue the landlord for damages. A tenant may be able to recover money equivalent to the amount of monthly rent for which the landlord disallowed the prospective subtenant or assignee from making payments.

Furthermore, damages associated with the landlord’s failure to mitigate damages may be possible. The duty to mitigate damages exists where the landlord must take reasonable steps to re-rent the unit to a replacement tenant.

When Can a Landlord Deny a Sublessee or Assignee?

A landlord can deny a sublessee when:

  • The landlord has a good faith belief that the new tenant would not meet the financial obligations under the lease
  • There needs to be an alteration to the premises for the use of the new tenant
  • There would be an increase in the number of persons residing in the dwelling
  • The landlord has a good faith belief of the new tenant’s inappropriate conduct
  • The new tenant refuses to sign and comply with the lease

Can a Landlord Charge Unlimited Amounts for the Security Deposit?

In New York, a landlord can charge an unlimited amount for the security deposit. There are no rent control laws capping the security deposit amount. However, landlords are expected to charge only a reasonable amount for the security deposit.

Generally, a reasonable amount for a New York security deposit could be two times the amount of rent. So, if the monthly rent is $1,000, a landlord could require the tenant to pay $2,000 as a security deposit.

Can a Landlord Deduct Expenses From the Security Deposit?

Landlords in New York can deduct expenses from the security deposit.

A landlord will be able to withhold a tenant’s security deposit for certain reasons. These reasons include:

  • Any costs associated with damages incurred because of lease breaches
  • Any costs associated with property damages not normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid monthly rent
  • Unpaid utilities
  • Cleaning fees at the end of the lease
  • Expenses incurred in securing a new tenant
  • Whatever cancellation fee the lease may be provided for

Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Lease Violations?

In New York, a landlord can sue a tenant for violating the lease. Common lease violations include:

  • Illegal activity
  • Unauthorized pets
  • Disturbing other tenants
  • Not keeping the premises clean

Landlords can recover damages such as unpaid rent, costs of property damage the tenant caused and eviction of the tenant.

Can a Landlord Enter a Tenant’s Premises During an Emergency?

A landlord can enter a tenant’s premises when there is an emergency.

In practice, a landlord should try to give at least 24 hours’ notice before entering a rented apartment to make (or assess for) repairs or show the unit to prospective new tenants. 

In the event of an emergency, such as a fire, burst water pipe, or gas leak, landlords have the right to enter without notice. They may also enter the premises if a tenant has moved out without notifying the tenant or if the landlord has a court order to do so.

Can a Landlord Conduct a Background Check on Prospective Tenants?

A landlord in New York can conduct a background check on prospective tenants. In New York, landlords must make available to the applicant, printed notice of the landlord’s tenant selection criteria, including:

  • Criminal history
  • Previous rental history
  • Current income
  • Credit history

In New York, there are usually costs associated with background checks.

Can a Landlord Charge Late Fees for Late Rent?

In New York, a landlord can charge late fees for late rent. According to statute, a landlord can charge up to a certain percentage of the monthly rent as a late penalty. If the landlord is going to charge a late fee, the following requirements need to be met:

  1. Notice of the fee is included in the written lease
  2. The fee is reasonable

Can a Landlord Set Occupancy Limits?

New York law requires that landlords set occupancy limits depending on the type of property the landlord owns.

Generally, the maximum number of adults that a landlord may allow to occupy a dwelling is three times the number of bedrooms in the premises. There are certain exceptions allowing a higher occupancy limit such as state or federal laws that allow a higher occupancy rate or if an adult is seeking temporary sanctuary from family violence.

Can a Landlord Require Certain Forms of Payment?

New York law in general does not allow landlords to require particular forms of payment. However, the law is not completely clear on the matter, apart from the specific issue of electronic payment systems.

A landlord cannot require the use of an electronic payment or billing system, or charge any fees to a tenant who declines to use such a system.

The law also says that a tenant must receive a receipt when paying rent by cash or any other form of payment other than personal check. This implies that a tenant has the right to pay rent with cash, money order, cashier’s check, or personal check. However, the law doesn’t state this in clear, absolute terms, and the issue has not been fully litigated in New York’s court system.

Can a Landlord Charge an Application Fee?

In New York, a landlord can charge an application fee associated with a rental application. This fee is capped at $20. The fee is to pay the landlord’s cost of running a background check on a prospective tenant.

If the landlord rejects an applicant and the landlord has not made proper notice, the landlord will have to return the application fee. Furthermore, if an applicant requests a landlord to mail a refund of the applicant’s application fee to the applicant, the landlord shall mail the refund check to the applicant.