In New York's booming housing market, both landlords and tenants are under a lot of pressure. Both sides may be unsure about the extent of their obligations to each other and the rights they have when something goes wrong.
In many cases, the rights and obligations of residential tenants and landlords are contained in the written lease agreement. Lease disputes are often resolved by interpretation of the language of the lease. But New York law also provides rights and obligations independent of what the lease says. For tenants, one of the most fundamental of these rights is the warranty of habitability.
The warranty of habitability is an implied warranty, read into the lease as a matter of law. The landlord cannot require the tenant to waive or limit this warranty. It is a warranty that the landlord will maintain the premises in a condition fit for humans to live in, fit for the use the parties reasonably intend, and free of conditions that are dangerous or detrimental to health and safety. Conditions that violate the warranty can include lack of running water or heat, cracks in walls, lack of required fire protection equipment, leaking pipes, exposed or dangerous electrical wiring, and vermin, among others.
When a landlord violates the warranty of habitability, the tenant has remedies in court. The court may find the tenant is entitled to an abatement, or refund, of the rent for the period of time the violation existed. The tenant can also withhold rent until the violation is corrected. If the landlord brings a nonpayment of rent proceeding, the tenant can deposit the rent with the court until the matter is decided. If the tenant proves the warranty of habitability was violated, the landlord forfeits the rent, which is then returned to the tenant.
Source: Metropolitan Council on Housing, "Statutory Rights of Residential Tenants in New York," accessed May 24, 2015