Lease Agreement What You Should Know

By: Undisputed Legal/Eviction Service Department

A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant, containing the rental terms and conditions. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless both parties agree. Leases for apartments that are not rent-stabilized may be oral or written. To avoid disputes, the parties may wish to enter into a written agreement. A party must sign the lease to be bound by its terms. An oral lease for more than one year cannot be legally enforced (General Obligations Law § 5-701).

At a minimum, leases should identify the premises, specify the parties’ names and addresses, the amount and due dates of the rent, the duration of the rental, the conditions of occupancy, and the rights and obligations of both parties. Except where the law provides otherwise, a landlord may rent on such terms and conditions as are agreed to by the parties. Both parties should initial any changes to the lease. 

New York City rent-stabilized tenants are entitled to receive a fully executed copy of their signed lease within 30 days of the landlord’s receipt of the lease signed by the tenant. The lease’s be- ginning and ending dates must be stated. Rent stabilized tenants must also be given a rent stabilization lease rider, prepared by DHCR, which summarizes their rights under the law and provides specific information on how the rent was calculated. 

Lease Provisions 

Leases must use words with ordinary and everyday meanings and must be clear and coherent. Sections of leases must be appropriately captioned, and the print must be large enough to be read easily. (General Obligations Law § 5-702; NY C.P.L.R. § 4544.) 

The following lease provisions are void: 

  • Exempting landlords from liability for injuries to persons or prop-
    erty caused by the landlord’s negligence, or that of the landlord’s
    employees or agents (General Obligations Law § 5-321);
  • Waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit brought by either of the parties against the other for personal injury or property damage (Real Property Law§ 259-c);
  • Requiring tenants to pledge their household furniture as security
    for rent (Real Property Law § 231).
    If a lease states that the landlord may recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred if a lawsuit arises, a tenant automatically has a reciprocal right to recover those fees as well (Real Property Law § 234).
    If the court finds a lease or any lease clause to have been unconscionable when it was made, the court may refuse to enforce the lease or the clause in question (Real Property Law § 235-c). 

Renewal Leases 

For non-rent regulated apartments, the landlord must agree to renew the lease, and a tenant may be subject to eviction at the end of the lease term. However, a lease may contain an automatic renewal clause. In such a case, the landlord must give the tenant advance notice of this clause’s existence between 15 and 30 days before the tenant is required to notify the landlord of an intention not to renew the lease. (General Obligations Law § 5-905). 

Rent stabilized tenants have a right to a one or two-year renewal lease, which must be on the same terms and conditions as the prior lease, un- a specific law or regulation mandates less a change. A landlord’s acceptance of a Section 8 subsidy is one such term that must be continued on a renewal lease. Landlords may refuse to renew a lease only under certain enumerated circumstances, such as when the tenant is not using the premises as a primary residence. For New York City rent-stabilized tenants, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant of the right to renewal by mail or personal delivery, not more than 150 days and not less than 90 days before the existing lease expires. 

After the notice of renewal is given, the tenant has 60 days in which to accept. If the tenant does not accept the renewal offer within the prescribed time, the landlord may refuse to renew the lease and seek to evict the tenant through court proceedings. If the tenant accepts the renewal offer, the landlord has 30 days to return the tenant’s fully executed lease. Until returned to the tenant, the lease is not sufficient, and therefore, the rent increase portion need not be paid. 

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