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New York City Considers Requiring Landlords to Educate Tenants on Rental Rights

By Michael Klazema on 2/27/2020

When can a landlord access your apartment? Do they have to provide heat when it is cold? How much should an application fee cost? These questions, and many similar ones, speak to the complex and confusing patchwork of rules which govern the landlord-tenant relationship. Especially in cities with a huge rental market, such as New York City, unscrupulous landlords may use tenant confusion to engage in unethical or even illegal practices, such as shutting off the heat to save money in the winter. 

For tenants, lodging complaints about these practices is often tricky, especially when they may not always know that their landlord's actions are inappropriate. In 2020, New York City's Comptroller recognized a severe knowledge gap impacting tenants, especially regarding recently-enacted rules. After studying the issue, the Comptroller's office proposed a Tenant Bill of Rights—an explicit list of rights and expectations to include with every lease packet and tenancy renewal in the city. 

The rules outlined in the proposed Bill of Rights are not new regulations; all of them are already on the books and in force. However, many renters remain unaware of some or all their rights. 

Some landlords continue to use opaque leases to carry on with illegal activity, such as requiring an application fee over $20 for a pre-rental tenant background check. NYC 311, which fields complaints from city residents, logs millions of claims every year regarding landlords who fail to provide mandatory utilities such as heating.

By including clear definitions and guidelines within leases, the proposal aims to remove doubt from the equation for tenants. The Comptroller hopes a Bill of Rights would make it easier for tenants to hold landlords responsible for violating their rights while disincentivizing landlords from ignoring issues. 

For the Tenant Bill of Rights to appear in all leases and renewal packets, the New York City Council must create and adopt regulations requiring its inclusion. As the City considers its next steps for protecting its tenant population, similar bills of rights have already become law in other municipalities around the country. 

What do these changing rules mean for landlords? Landlords must always be aware of the specific rules that apply to them, including the use of background screening products in their locale. 

Compliance has always been an element of owning a rental property. As new regulations develop, landlords must take steps to remain legally in the clear. With multiple rules in effect,  including caps on application fees for screening purposes in some areas, cost-effective and scalable solutions for tenant background checks are essential. backgroundchecks.com offers landlords quick access to vital information for determining tenant suitability, including criminal history checks and credit reports. 

While new regulations may seem burdensome, using a lease to spell out both a landlord and tenant's rights could be a benefit to both parties. With a clear, mutual understanding of each other's responsibilities, resolving disputes or avoiding them may be easier.

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