General Housing Information and Tenant's Rights
What is a lease?
A lease is a contract between you and your landlord that spells out specific details of your living arrangement. Leases often involve policies about pets, deposits, legal entry and other important information. Most leases in New Rochelle are joint leases meaning a landlord will hold all roommates responsible for the lease. If one roommate breaks the lease, all roommates are held responsible for paying the total amount of the rent. An individual lease holds each person responsible for his/her actions. However, if one person leaves and your roommates have an individual lease, a landlord can replace that person with anyone he or she wishes.
Breaking your lease can have serious consequences. You can be taken to court, and defaulting on your lease can go on your credit report.
Under the provisions of the City of New Rochelle Zoning Code (Section 331-4 Specific Terms Defined) the City of New Rochelle defines several important terms related to renting a housing unit in the City.
- Dwelling is defined as a building or portion thereof providing complete housekeeping facilities for one family, including independent and complete cooking, sanitary and sleeping facilities.
- Family is defined as either: up to three persons occupying a dwelling unit; or, four or more persons occupying a dwelling unit and living together as a traditional family or the functional equivalent of a traditional family.
- Rooming house is defined as any dwelling containing two or more rooming units. The term shall also include boarding house and lodging house.
- Rooming unit is defined as a portion of a rooming house or a dwelling unit which is leased for occupancy by no more than two persons.
The City of New Rochelle Building and Fire Departments are responsible for investigating housing complaints involving zoning issues where more than three non-related people are living together in a dwelling. Based on the above definitions, it is important to realize that only three unrelated people are permitted to live together in a dwelling unit. More than three individuals living together would be a violation of the Zoning Code. A critically important fact when considering the legal number of occupants in a building is the number of dwelling units in the building. In a one family home, regardless of the number of bedrooms, there can only be three unrelated persons living together. In a two family home, three unrelated persons are permitted to reside in each dwelling unit for a total of six persons in the house.
If you are looking to rent a room in a private home in New Rochelle, Section 331.30 permits the accessory use for an owner-occupied dwelling unit to allow the renting of not more than one room to not more than two persons. Therefore, it would be legal for no more than two students to reside in a private home sharing a room. According to the City of New Rochelle Zoning Code, it shall be presumptive evidence that four or more persons living in a single dwelling unit who are not related by blood, marriage, legal adoption or legal foster relationship do not constitute the functional equivalent of a traditional family. The standard that is used in determining whether individuals are living together as the functional equivalent of a traditional family, the following criteria must be present:
- The occupants must share the entire dwelling unit, including cooking facilities, and live as a single housekeeping unit. A dwelling unit in which various occupants maintain separate and locked sleeping facilities in which such occupants separate personal property are contained therein may not be deemed to be occupied by the functional equivalent of a traditional family;
- The group is not transient or temporary in nature. Evidence of not being transient or temporary in nature may include but not be limited to proof that members of the household have the same address for purposes of voters registration, drivers license, motor vehicle registration, and filing of income taxes and/or other documentation of domicile; and
- Any other factor reasonably related to whether or not the group is the functional equivalent of a family.
What this ultimately means to you is that no more than three unrelated individuals may reside in a dwelling without creating an illegal occupancy condition that violates both the Citys Zoning and the States Building codes. Depending on how and why this illegal occupancy condition was created, you or your landlord (or property manager) may be found liable, cited, and possibly prosecuted in New Rochelle City Court.
If you have questions regarding these regulations and need further information, please contact the City of New Rochelle Bureau of Building at (914) 654-2036 or (914) 654-2035 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday.
Before signing a lease: do not give a deposit to a landlord or rental agent unless you are sure you want the apartment. It may not be refundable. If the accommodation you are seeking is in an apartment building, the heating cost will probably be included in the rent. Each group of tenants in a two or three-family house rental will usually pay their own fuel costs and sometimes their own hot water. These can often be very high during the cold winter months. Consider these unheated accommodations carefully since the rental price does not represent your total cost. Other utilities, such as gas and electricity, cable TV, Internet service and telephone may also be extra and are usually a substantial expense. Generally, apartments in buildings will be equipped with a stove and a refrigerator, but some house rentals may have only a stove. Almost all apartments will be unfurnished and those that are furnished tend to be very expensive.
It is important that you check the quality of the apartment and the physical condition when you are evaluating your rental options. The quality of any rental unit within an area can vary greatly which should encourage you to carefully inspect the property as the overall condition should affect the rental price.
Rooms in a Private Home
Since Iona College is located in a predominately residential area, many homeowners in the vicinity rent a private bedroom in their homes. Many rooms are furnished and kitchen privileges are often available. Students living off-campus may continue to purchase the College meal plan.
Some homeowners ask for a security deposit equal to one month's rent to be used as security against possible damage. If you leave before your lease expires, this deposit is usually forfeited. Should there be any question about your leaving before the end of your lease term, make prior arrangements that are agreed upon with the homeowner in writing before you move. Often people who rent a room in their home will offer month-to-month, nine-month, or ten-month leases.
Although a lease is seldom required, some homeowners ask for a security deposit equal to one month's rent to be used as security against possible damage. It may be used as the last month's rent, if agreed upon by the landlord. If you leave before the end of the academic year, this deposit is usually forfeited. Should there be any question about your leaving before the end of the academic year, it is suggested that you make prior arrangements that are agreed upon with the homeowner in writing before you move in.
Unfortunately landlords can discriminate against college students because college students are not considered a protected class. However, landlords cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, ability, familial status, or national origin. If you think you have been discriminated against, contact the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (518) 474-6157.
New York State sets the following guidelines for eviction:
Where a tenant fails to pay rent, is causing a nuisance, damaging the apartment or building, or committing other wrongful acts, the owner may proceed directly to court after the service of the proper notices. Some special grounds, such as the owner seeking to demolish the building, do require that the owner first receive approval from DHCR.
A landlord cannot harass a tenant until he/she gives up his/her rights. No landlord or person acting on behalf of the landlord can interfere with a tenant's privacy, comfort, or quiet enjoyment of the tenant's apartment. If a tenant fears he/she is being harassed, file a Tenant's Statement of Complaint(s)-Harassment form with the New York State department of Housing and Community Renewal (914) 948-4434.
A tenant who sublets an apartment to another person is still the prime tenant. The person to whom the apartment was sublet becomes the subtenant. If you are thinking about subletting your apartment, read the following guidelines and reread your lease to make sure your landlord will allow it. Then notify your landlord in writing with your intent to sublet.
New York State sets the following guidelines for subletting:
An owner may not unreasonably deny a sublet if the tenant follows these procedures:
1) Inform the owner of an intent to sublease by mailing a notice of such intent by certified mail, return receipt requested, no less than 30 days prior to the proposed subletting with: (a) term of sublease; (b) name of proposed subtenant; (c) business and home address of proposed subtenant; (d) tenant's reason for subletting; (e) tenant's address for term of sublease (f) written consent of any co-tenant or guarantor of the lease; (g) a copy of the tenant's lease, where available, attached to a copy of the proposed sublease, acknowledged by the tenant and subtenant as being a true copy of the sublease;
2) Within ten days after the mailing of the request, the owner may ask the tenant for additional information. Within 30 days after the mailing of the tenant's request to sublet, or of the additional information reasonably asked for by the owner (whichever is later), the owner must send a reply to the tenant consenting to the sublet or indicating the reasons for denial. Failure of the owner to reply to the tenant's request within the required 30 days will be considered consent.
If the owner consents, or does not reply to the request within the appropriate 30 day period, the apartment may be sublet. However, the prime tenant remains liable for all obligations under the lease.
If the owner unreasonably withholds consent, the tenant may sublet the apartment and may also recover court costs and attorneys fees spent on finding that the owner acted in bad faith by withholding consent. If the owner reasonably withholds consent, the tenant may not sublet the apartment.
The owner may charge the prime tenant the sublet allowance in effect at the start of the lease, if the lease is a renewal lease. The allowance is established by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board Order. The prime tenant may pass this sublet allowance along to the subtenant.
If the prime tenant sublets the apartment fully furnished, the prime tenant may charge an additional rent increase for the use of the furniture. This increase may not exceed ten percent of the lawful rent.
The prime tenant may not demand key money or overcharge the subtenant. If the prime tenant overcharges the subtenant, the subtenant may file a Tenant's Complaint of Rent Overcharge and/or Excess Security Deposit. If the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) finds that the prime tenant has overcharged the subtenant, the prime tenant will be required to refund to the subtenant three times the overcharge.
The sublease may extend beyond the prime tenant's lease term. The prime tenant retains the right to the renewal lease. A tenant may not sublet the apartment for more than two years out of the four-year period before the termination date of the sublease. For example, a tenant seeks to sublet the apartment for two years starting January 1, 1995. The sublet would expire December 31, 1996. If the tenant has already sublet the apartment for any period of time between January 1, 1993 and December 31, 1994, the tenant would be exceeding the maximum two year sublet rule. The owner could bring an eviction proceeding against the prime tenant.
A lease assignment conveys to another person all the tenant's rights to occupy the apartment, whereas a sublet is based upon a temporary absence by the prime tenant who intends to return to the apartment at the end of the sublease.
A tenant may not assign his/her lease without the written consent of the owner, which may be unconditionally withheld without cause. However, an owner who unreasonably refuses to grant permission to assign the lease, must release the tenant from the lease upon request of the tenant upon 30 days notice. If the owner reasonably withholds consent, the lease may not be assigned and the tenant will not be released from the lease.
An illusory sublet occurs when the alleged prime tenant has not actually been in physical occupancy of the apartment. This type of case is called an illusory prime tenancy because the alleged prime tenant does not maintain the apartment as a primary residence and the sublet is intended to evade various requirements of the Rent Stabilization Law and Code.
The subtenant of an apartment in an illusory sublet situation may file a Tenant's Complaint of Owners Failure to Renew Lease and/or Failure to Furnish a Copy of a Signed Lease with DHCR. If DHCR finds that the complaint is justified, it will deny the illusory prime tenant the right to a renewal lease and require the owner of the building to recognize the subtenant as the actual tenant, who is entitled to a renewal lease at the lawful stabilized rent.
In addition, the illusory prime tenant will be legally responsible to refund all overcharges collected from the subtenant. If the illusory prime tenant has furniture in the apartment, DHCR may direct the subtenant to permit the furniture to be removed. If the subtenant can prove that the building owner received part or all of the overcharge, the owner will also be responsible for refunding the rent overcharge.
What to do if you need something fixed:
- Put it in writing! You must let your landlord know, and you must do so in a timely way.
- If you call and let your landlord know as well, follow up with a letter and reference the date of your phone conversation.
- If there is a problem (such as a water leak), and you do not let your landlord know about it in a timely way, you could be responsible for the damages. The landlord could also sue you and, if you lose, you could be responsible for the legal fees too!
- In your letter include your name, address, what the problem is, when the problem was discovered, and the date you want the repair made by (be reasonable).
- Sign the letter. Address it to your landlord.
- Keep a copy.
- Send the letter via certified mail with return receipt requested.
You should know:
- If a landlord does not make repairs in a reasonable amount of time if the repair request was made in writing, a tenant can file an Application for a Rent Reduction Based on Decreased Services with the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal Office of Rent Administration (914) 948-4434.
- A tenant cannot just pay less rent on his/her own accord.
The specific New Rochelle code related to heat is as follows:
174-11. Heating Requirements.
A. It shall be the duty of every person who has contracted to furnish heat or who is required by any contract, agreement, lease or other arrangement or by law to heat or furnish heat to any building or part thereof occupied as a place of habitation or occupied as a business establishment or for public or governmental purposes where one or more persons are employed to furnish heat to every occupied room in such building or part thereof so as to maintain temperature as follows:
- Not less than 68 F. between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. whenever the temperature outside of the building shall fall below 55 F.
- Not less than 60 F. between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. whenever the temperature outside the building shall fall below 50 F.
B. For the purposes of this section, the temperature within a place of habitation shall be that obtained at a distance of five feet above the average floor level of the room in which such temperature is obtained.
If a landlord fails to comply with this regulation, contact the County Health Department at (914) 654-2095.
Landlords have the right to increase rent for an improvement to an individual apartment by 1/40 of the total cost of the improvements (e.g. new stove, refrigerator, etc.) if the landlord has the written consent of the current tenant.
Know your rights!
Important County Numbers
- Noise complaints: (914) 654-2230
- Housing code complaints: (914) 654-2095
- City code violations (court): (914) 654-2311
- Code Enforcement/Abatements: (914) 654-2051
- Landlord/tenant: (914) 654-2288