Photo Credit:

Rent control, first promulgated in New York City almost a century ago, has been a consistent feature of the downstate residential real estate market for decades. However, it came as a surprise to some to see headlines appear in recent months teasing the possibility of downstate-style price controls (“rent stabilization”) on residential units making their way to the rest of the state. This sparked lively debate amongst upstate lawmakers, activists, and business groups about the efficacy of such measures. One notable incident featured a Syracuse Common Councilor cutting a $20 bill into pieces (punishable by up to six-months imprisonment) to illustrate his disapproval of the proposed legislation.

Ultimately, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“the Act”), was signed into law by Governor Cuomo June 14th, the aforementioned municipal legislature’s withholding of endorsement notwithstanding. In passing this legislation, tenant’s rights advocates achieved many sought-after reforms, which landlords throughout the state need to quickly get familiar with. However, universal rent-stabilization was not one of them, sort of.

Any city, village, or town may now opt-in to rent stabilization by declaring a “public emergency”, if the vacancy rate is not in excess of 5%. Upon doing so, a state official will appoint a local Rent Guidelines Board, to administer the program. The board would be able to limit annual rent increases for most multi-unit apartment buildings built before 1974. It’s yet to be seen how many municipalities will opt-in to this program. The scope of the regulations for those who do is complex and voluminous.

However, of greater immediate interest to most upstate landlords, the Act also features a slew of mandatory tenant-protections affecting all rentals throughout New York. Some of the most significant are briefly summarized below.

  • Landlords may no longer refuse to rent to individuals because they appear on a so-called “blacklist”, –lists of individuals who have appeared in housing court, used to screen out prior evictees. Nor may court systems or their contractors sell such data.
  • Landlords are now required to give 30 days’ notice if they are going to raise the rent by more than 5% or are not going to renew a lease. The requirement is 60 days if not going to renew the lease of tenant already residing in the unit for over a year and 90 days if the tenant has been residing in the unit for over two years.
  • Courts are now empowered to allow tenants to stay in their apartment regardless of payment of rent or other lease violations for up to one year if the tenant cannot find a similar suitable dwelling in the same neighborhood or if eviction would result in “extreme hardship.”
  • The definition of a “retaliatory eviction” has been expanded and the penalties for landlords found to have engaged in the practice increased.
  • The statutory 3-day demand for rent payment has been expanded to 14 days and must now be served in writing.
  • Landlords can no longer recover attorney’s fees upon receipt of a default judgement.
  • Late charges may not exceed the lesser of 5% of the rent or $50.
  • Fuel pass-along charges are now prohibited.
  • Security deposits may not exceed one month’s rent.
  • Unlawful eviction is now classified as a Class A misdemeanor.

As should be apparent from this list, highly abbreviated in scope and depth, the reforms in the Act are wide-ranging and feature many significant changes. Real estate industry groups are already planning legal challenges to some of the new rules, so we will see in the coming months and years if any of the new rules prove transitory. In the meantime, it is imperative that landlords and tenants both get acquainted with their rights under the Act in order to guard against unforeseen legal problems.

Christopher Baiamonte Headshot

Christopher J. Baiamonte

Mr. Baiamonte concentrates his practice primarily on civil litigation. He counsels individual, corporate, and municipal clients on resolving disputes ranging from environmental liability to shareholders rights to creditor–debtor suits. He also works with clients to navigate various state and federal regulations relating to areas such as environmental protection, employment, and civil rights.

More Details About Christopher J. Baiamonte