Tenants' Rights

<< Return to Coronavirus Guidance, Resources, and Warnings

The Attorney General's Office is unable to represent individuals or provide legal advice specific to your case. Instead, this FAQ will give general information about your rights. For specific legal advice for your case, you should contact an attorney. To find a free attorney, visit LawHelpNY. You can also contact your local bar association to get assistance. In NYC, you can contact 311 which can direct you to an attorney or a city agency.

Tenant Rights During the COVID-19 Crisis in New York State

Get Help With Paying Your Rent

New York State's New Eviction Protections

What Defenses Do I Have For Not Paying Rent?

Eviction Proceedings In Court

Illegal Evictions (Lockouts) and Leases

Rent Increases

Disruption of Essential Services

Discrimination

Request for Access to Your Apartment By Landlord

Retaliation

Get Help Paying Your Rent

New York State residents (both tenants and landlords) can still apply to have their rent arrears paid by the state under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”). Residents of City of Rochester and Monroe County, the City of Yonkers, Onondaga County and the towns of Hempstead, Islip and Oyster Bay must apply with their local programs for emergency rental assistance. 

Visit the ERAP website for more information.

Funds are limited so please go to the ERAP website to see where funds are still available. In addition, households in any part of the state with income over 80 percent and up to 120 percent of area median income can still apply for state-funded emergency rental assistance. 

Even if funds are not available, eviction cases are stayed from when you file an ERAP application to when a decision is made on the application. If you have filed an ERAP application, make sure to tell the court.

Where can you receive immediate assistance

Households who need immediate assistance with help paying for rental arrears, ongoing rent, food or providing heating assistance may apply for assistance through:

  • Their local department of social services office.
  • For areas outside of New York city: myBenefits
  • The United Way Helpline, which has access to various local services throughout the state. They can be reached by phone by dialing 211.
  • New York City residents can obtain information on various local services by calling 311.

Eligibility

New York residents are eligible for ERAP if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Household gross income is at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).These income limits differ by county and household size. A household may qualify based on current income or calendar year 2020 income that is at or below 80 percent AMI.
  • On or after March 13, 2020, a member of the household received unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs or experienced financial hardship, directly or indirectly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The applicant is obligated to pay rent at their primary residence and has rental arrears (rent overdue) at their current residence for rent owed on or after March 13, 2020.
  • The household must be at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, which can be demonstrated by having rental arrears owed on or after March 13, 2020.

There are no immigration status requirements to qualify for the program.

Households eligible for rental arrears may also be eligible for help paying utility arrears at the same rental unit.

Benefits

Households approved for ERAP may receive:

  • Up to 12 months of rental arrears payments for rents accrued on or after March 13, 2020.
  • Up to 3 months of additional rental assistance if the household is expected to spend 30 percent or more of their gross monthly income to pay for rent.
  • Up to 12 months of electric or gas utility arrears payments for arrears that have accrued on or after March 13, 2020.

Payments will be made directly to the landlord/property owner and utility company on behalf of the tenant. Tenant applicants will be notified of the amounts paid on their behalf. If a landlord is difficult to locate or does not otherwise provide information needed to complete the application, funds will be held for up to 180 days to allow sufficient time to locate the landlord and collect required information as well as to provide tenant protections and maximize landlord participation.

Renter Applicant Documents

Renters will need to provide:

  • Personal identification for primary applicant (individual signing application ). Acceptable forms of identification include items such as: A photo ID, driver license or non-driver government-issued ID, passport, EBT/Benefits Issuance Card, birth certificate or school registration.
  • Social Security number of any household members who have been issued one. Individuals do not need to have a lawful immigration status to qualify for the program.
  • Proof of rental amount, signed lease, even if expired. If no lease is available then proof can be shown through a rent receipt, canceled check or money order. If no documentation is available, landlord attestation will be accepted.
  • Proof of residency and occupancy – Signed lease, rent receipt, utility bill, school records, bank statement, postal mail with name of applicant, insurance bill, or driver license. Proof should be current.
  • Proof of income:
    • Documents demonstrating monthly income for the prior month, such as pay stubs, bank account deposit verification, unemployment benefits letter, or other proof; OR
    • Documents demonstrating annual income for 2020, such as a W-2 tax form from an employer, an annual statement of earnings, or a copy of a completed income tax return, such as a 1040, 1040EZ, 1099 tax form, or other evidence of 2020 annual income.
    • Self-attestation through a written and signed statement of income is permitted in certain circumstances where no documentation is available such as certain self-employment.
  • Copy of gas or electric utility bill, if applying for help paying for utility arrears at the same rental unit.

Applicants will be asked to attest that on or after March 13, 2020, a member of the household received unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship, directly or indirectly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The applicant will need to sign the application form and associated certifications agreeing that the information provided in the application is accurate.

Landlord Applicant Documents

Landlords and property owners will need to provide:

  • W-9 tax form by keying this information in the Owner Account on the ERAP portal.
  • Executed lease with tenant applicant, or if there is no written lease, a cancelled check, evidence of funds transfer or other documentation of the last full monthly rent payment. Upload pages of lease to at least include unit address, tenants on lease, monthly rental obligation, and signature page.
  • Documentation of rent due from tenant by uploading a monthly rent confirmation form or ledger identifying the rental amount due by month. Do not include non-rent payments such as late fees or parking fees.
  • Banking information by keying in direct deposit information in the Owner Account on the ERAP portal.
  • If applicable, the owner affidavit or signed agreement designating the property management company/agent as authorized recipient of ERAP funds.

The property owner or an authorized property management company will be required to sign the application form and associated certifications agreeing that the information provided, including the amount of rental arrears owed, is accurate and does not duplicate a payment received from another program.

The property owner or authorized property management company must also agree to the following terms as a condition of accepting rental arrears payments:

  • The ERAP payment satisfies the tenant's full rental obligations for the time period covered by the payment.
  • Waive any late fees due on any rental arrears covered by the ERAP payment.
  • Not increase the monthly rental amount above the monthly amount due at the time of application for ERAP assistance for months for which rental assistance is received and for one year from receipt of the ERAP payment.
  • Not evict the household on behalf of whom the ERAP payment is made for reason of expired lease or holdover tenancy for one year from the receipt of the ERAP payment. An exception to this requirement shall be made if the dwelling unit contains four or fewer units and the property owner or owner's immediate family members intend to immediately occupy the unit for use as a primary residence.

What if My Landlord Won't Accept ERAP

Your landlord is not required to assist with the ERAP application or accept ERAP payments.

However, you will want to explain to your landlord that it is in their interest to work with you to obtain ERAP. Evicting a tenant does not guarantee that the landlord will be able to collect any rent. More importantly, you may have defenses to the eviction proceeding, including showing financial hardship, so that you will not be evicted.

Please see WHAT DEFENSES DO I HAVE FOR NOT PAYING RENT?

 

Termination of New York State's Eviction Moratorium

The New York State Eviction Moratorium that allowed tenants to file a hardship declaration to stop their eviction expired on January 15, 2022. Landlords are now allowed to serve court papers and the courts will be resuming eviction proceedings even if you filed a hardship declaration. You should check with the court if you had an ongoing court case that was stopped because you filed a hardship declaration.

Please see EVICTION PROCEEDINGS IN COURT for further information

What Defenses Do I Have For Not Paying Rent?

The suspension of evictions through a Declaration does not suspend your obligation to pay rent.

In addition, you can contact your local Department of Social Services if you need help paying rent.

You are protected from eviction for failing to pay rent that came due starting March 7, 2020 through January 15, 2022 if you suffered a financial hardship.

To receive the protections, you must raise in court that you are suffering from financial hardship. This is a different law than the law that allows you to file a declaration about financial hardship although you can use your declaration to prove hardship. 

If the court finds that you had a financial hardship due to COVID-19, the landlord will not be allowed to evict you for the rent that was owed due to your hardship. However, the court can issue a money judgment against you for that rent.

The court will look at the following factors to determine whether you had a financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • your income prior to the COVID-19 covered period;
  • your income during the COVID-19 covered period;
  • your liquid assets; and
  • your eligibility for and receipt of cash assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance program, supplemental security income, the New York State disability program, the home energy assistance program, or unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law.

Come to court with documents (paystubs, unemployment benefit statements, bank account statements, etc) that show you had a financial hardship due to COVID-19.

If you filled out a hardship declaration based on financial hardship that has not been determined to be invalid by the court, there is a rebuttable presumption that you meet the criteria above for experiencing a financial hardship. 

It depends.

Your landlord cannot charge you a late fee or other fee if you are late in paying rent from March 20, 2020 through June 24, 2021. 

For all other times, your landlord can only charge a late or other fee if it is allowed by your lease. Even if your lease allows for late fees, your landlord can only charge $50 or 5% of your rent, whichever is less.

You cannot be evicted for failing to pay a late or other fee.

New York State laws make it illegal for landlords to engage in any action that is intended to force tenants to leave their homes or otherwise give up their rights under law. This means that your landlord is prohibited from interfering with your privacy, comfort and quiet enjoyment of your home.

For example, your landlord may not persistently call you at all hours of the day or night asking you for the rent or suggesting that you must move out because you are behind in the rent. Your landlord may also not engage in disruptive construction or renovation projects in your building that interfere with your health and safety and use of your apartment. These actions could be considered harassment.

You can call 911 if your landlord threatens you, forcibly removes you from your apartment, or locks you out. You may also be able to obtain an Order of Protection against your landlord. You can find information about how to obtain an Order of Protection from the New York State Unified Court System. Please call the court at (833) 503-0447 to get more information and to confirm whether the court will allow you to file an application for an Order of Protection.

In New York City, the New York City Tenant Protection Act also provides additional strong anti-harassment protections. If you believe your landlord has engaged in harassment, you can contact 311 or the Right to Counsel hotline at 718-557-1379

Eviction Proceedings In Court

The court is allowing cases to proceed. You may receive notice from the landlord or the court. The notice will either be for a court date or may require you to "answer" the court papers. You should not ignore court papers even if you are eligible for COVID-19 protections or you hear that courts are not defaulting tenants who fail to answer.

You may be entitled by law to take additional days or weeks before filing an answer. In addition, some courts may allow you to answer the petition by phone instead of having to go to the court.

You should contact the court system at (833) 503-0447 to find out more information about how to answer court papers. Before going to court, you should call ahead to see if you can avoid having to go in person. The court may allow you to conduct your business by telephone or email.

In NYC, you can contact Housing Court Answers at (212) 962-4795 to help with filing an answer. You can also reach the Housing Court Help Center who may be able to answer your questions about filing an answer by phone. Leave a message with a phone number where you can be reached and a court attorney will call you back.

Bronx and Manhattan: (646) 386-5554 or 5555

Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island: (718) 262-7185 or 7186

Outside NYC, you can go to the court website to find information about answering a petition. You can also contact your local city, village or district court to find information about how to answer the petition.

Be aware that pre-court notices -- rent demand, termination of tenancy, notice to quit -- do not require you to go to court. Do not go to court to try to respond to them.

Note -- Before going to court, you should call ahead to see if you can avoid having to go in person. The court may allow you to conduct your business by telephone or email. You can contact the Court system at (833) 503-0447 to find out more information

Cases filed before March 17, 2020 will be allowed to go forward only after a status or settlement conference is held with the court. This applies to all stages of a case, including even if a judgment and/or warrant of eviction has been issued. In New York City, a landlord must file a motion that is served on you if they wish to obtain a warrant or try to evict you with a warrant that has already been issued.

At the conference, the court will, among other things, ask about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the parties; review any special relief under state or federal law to which the parties may be entitled in light of the pandemic, including the New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act (L. 2020, c. 127); and refer unrepresented parties to local civil legal service providers and housing counseling agencies, If the court doesn't ask about any of these things, you may wish to raise it with the court.

After the court conference, the judge can decide whether your case can move forward or not.

If a warrant of eviction was issued in your case, you should contact the court immediately and find out whether you should file papers to stop the eviction (called an Order to Show Cause – OSC).

In New York City, you can contact 311 or you can reach out to the NYC Right to Counsel Hotline at 718-557-1379 or Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795 for information and referrals to attorneys who may be able to provide representation.

Outside of New York City, you may find a legal referral from LawHelpNY.

Illegal Evictions (Lockouts) and Leases

It is a Class A Misdemeanor for your landlord to threaten you, change your locks or otherwise try to force you from your apartment without a court order.

If a landlord locks you out or tries to evict you illegally, you should call 911 and show the law enforcement officer identification, lease, public utility bill, or other document with your name and address.

If you are unable to get back into your apartment, you should contact the court system at (833) 503-0447 to find your closest emergency court. In NYC, you will be allowed to go to Housing Court in your borough to file an emergency petition to be restored to your apartment

No. Your landlord must take you to court to evict you and you may have protections from eviction. Your landlord cannot change your locks or otherwise evict you without going to court even if your lease expires. The courts are beginning to accept cases although the courts are moving slowly in allowing cases to be scheduled.

Even if your landlord serves you with a notice to vacate and then files a court case, it will take time for you to be evicted. The court must determine whether the landlord has a right to evict you. If the court decides that your landlord can evict you, you can ask the court for up to one year to move if you can show that you cannot find a similar apartment in the same neighborhood. The judge will take into account your health conditions, whether you have children enrolled in school, the hardship on the landlord if you remain, and any other life circumstances that could affect your ability to move.

After the judge issues a decision, the landlord still cannot change your locks or evict you themselves. Instead, the judge will issue a final judgment of possession and a warrant. The warrant goes to a Sheriff, City Marshal, or City Constable who issues a notice and then will carry out the eviction.

You are allowed to break your lease, however, you may be liable for rent for the entire length of the lease if the landlord is unable to find a new tenant at or above the rent you were paying.

You will want to first speak with your landlord to see if they will release you from the lease. If the landlord agrees, you will want to get this agreement in writing.

If your landlord refuses to let you out of the lease, you can still leave. Your landlord will have to make a good-faith effort to fill the vacancy. If the landlord finds a new tenant, and the new tenant's rent is equal or higher to your rent, your lease is considered terminated. You are no longer liable for rent for the remainder of your lease.

If your landlord is unable to find a new tenant or the new tenant is paying rent at a rate lower than your rent, you would be liable for the rent (or difference in rent) for the entire term of the lease. Rent will be due each month for the term of the lease. If you do not pay, the landlord would have to take you to court to collect the rent. The landlord must serve you with court papers. If the landlord is successful in obtaining a judgment against you in court, it must then enforce the judgment against you. To get more information about how a landlord collects on a judgment, visit the New York State Unified Court System.

Rent Increases

It depends. If you have a current lease, your landlord cannot increase your rent until it expires. If you are rent-stabilized or rent-controlled, the landlord is limited in the amounts it can increase your rent (currently 1.5% for a one-year renewal and 2.5% for a two-year renewal).

For market-rate tenants whose lease is expiring or are month-to-month tenants, your landlord must provide you with advance written notice of any rent increases above 5%:

  • 90 days written advance notice if you have lived in your apartment two years or more, or if you have a two-year lease;
  • 60 days written advance notice if you have lived in your apartment for more than one year, but less than two years;
  • 30 days advance written notice if you have lived in your apartment for less than one year or have a lease for less than one year.

Even if you are given proper advance notice of the rent increase, your landlord cannot charge you the increase in rent unless you accept it by signing a lease, paying the increase, or take another affirmative step evidencing you accepted the increase.

If you refuse to pay the increase, the landlord must go to court to evict you.

Once in court, the landlord cannot make you pay the rent increase if you did not accept it. Instead, the landlord can only ask the court for you to pay "use and occupancy" for the pendency of the case and the court will set this amount.

If your landlord is rent gouging based on the COVID-19 crisis, the court likely will set the rent close to your previous rent or perhaps lower if the market rents have decreased or you have poor conditions or housing violations in your apartment.

Disruption of Essential Services

Tenants are entitled to a livable, safe, and sanitary home whether they are paying rent or not. A landlord's failure to provide essential services such as hot water or electricity is a breach of the warranty of habitability.

If your landlord has failed to provide essential services to you and you live in New York City, you can call 311 and request an emergency inspection. The deliberate disruption or discontinuance of essential services may also constitute harassment as described above or be considered an unlawful eviction.

If you live outside of New York City, you can call your local code enforcement office to complain about a loss of essential services such as heat and hot water or other bad conditions.

If the repair is an essential service (heat, hot water, etc), you can contact the court at (833) 503-0447 to determine whether and how to file a case against your landlord to fix these conditions.

If you live in New York City, you can visit JustFix NYC to fill out an emergency housing part action form. If you are not comfortable doing this alone, you can call the Housing Court Answers hotline at 212-962-4795, and get help filling out the JustFix forms.

Discrimination

A landlord cannot discriminate against you or evict you because you or someone you live with has contracted COVID-19, had COVID-19, or the landlord just thinks that you have or had COVID-19.

If you are elderly or have a physical, mental, or medical impairment, which may include a COVID-19-related illness, you are protected from housing discrimination under federal, state, and city laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law. In addition, it is unlawful for landlords and their agents to discriminate against tenants for associating with individuals of a protected class. For example, your landlord may not discriminate against you for associating with someone who is elderly or has a physical, mental, or medical impairment.

Similarly, your landlord cannot treat you unfairly or differently because you are from or look like you are from a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak. Your landlord also cannot refuse to protect you if you are being harassed by other tenants because you are from or look like you are from a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

To report any acts of discrimination, you may call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (888) 392-3644, in New York City, you may call 311 or the New York City Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131, or in Westchester County, you may call the Westchester Human Rights Commission at (914) 995-7710. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney's General Office.

Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations in rules and procedures for persons with disabilities. If your landlord has a rule that you believe puts you at risk, you can ask for an accommodation in that rule. Your landlord may ask that you provide information that verifies your need for the accommodation, including documentation from a medical professional.

Even if you are not elderly or at high risk from COVID-19, you should contact your landlord to see if they will change a rule that might place you at risk or forces you to violate the law. For instance, the Governor has issued an order that all non-essential travel be stopped and therefore landlords should change their policies about requiring you to travel to their offices to pay rent. You can contact your local elected officials or your local representatives who can help you negotiate with your landlord.

Posting a notice that someone has an illness would be considered discrimination unless it is necessary to protect the health of others. Generally, there is no need to identify a person who has contracted COVID-19. Instead, a landlord can post a notice stating that someone within the building has contracted COVID-19 without identifying the person who got ill.

To report any acts of discrimination, you may call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (888) 392-3644, in New York City, you may call 311 or the New York City Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131, or in Westchester County, you may call the Westchester Human Rights Commission at (914) 995-7710. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney's General Office.

Request for Access to Your Apartment By Landlord

Your landlord is allowed reasonable access to your apartment. Reasonableness will depend on both why your landlord wants to gain access and also the risk to you and your family in allowing them access. For instance, if your landlord wants to show your apartment to a potential tenant and you have a sick family member, the court likely will not find this reasonable.

If your landlord needs to enter into your apartment, he or she must provide you with at least 24-hours written notice of the need for access, unless it is an emergency (e.g. an overflowing water leak). If you do not want to allow individuals into your home in light of concerns about the transmissibility of COVID-19, or if you suffer from a disability that puts you at greater risk and your landlord demands access for non-emergency repairs, you should put in writing your reason for denying access to the landlord. Make a copy of the letter and mail the original to your landlord or preserve any text messages or emails you send and any responses. Ultimately, if your landlord takes you to court for denying access, a judge will determine whether your denial was reasonable and so it is important to put the landlord on notice.

Retaliation

A landlord cannot refuse to renew your lease or tenancy or unreasonably increase your rent because you made a complaint. There is a presumption that your landlord is retaliating if you made a complaint to the landlord or a government agency about your rights within one year of the landlord refusing to renew your lease or unreasonably increasing your rent. If your landlord brings you to court, you can raise this as a defense and if you are successful, the landlord must provide you with a new lease.