Every state has some version of an “implied warranty of habitability,” which guarantees a renter the right to things like functioning plumbing and hot water—basically, everything necessary to keep a residence livable. This warranty is in every lease whether specifically stated or not, and it cannot be waived by either the landlord or the tenant.
New York state law is not very specific about what issues are considered a breach of the warranty. That being said, court cases decided over the years do help paint a clearer picture of what judges consider a breach.
New York’s implied warranty of habitability is relatively broad
New York State has a fairly broad statute that, unlike some states, does not include a list of specific issues that might be a breach of the warranty. Instead, the law establishes three requirements for landlords to comply with the warranty.1 Rental units in New York must be:
- Fit for human habitation
- Compliant with the reasonable expectations of the renter
- Free from dangerous or hazardous conditions detrimental to the tenant’s life, health, or safety
While state law doesn’t offer any additional specifics, court decisions help explain which particular issues could make a rental uninhabitable.
Being “fit for human habitation”
According to New York courts, landlords are always required to keep their rental units habitable—even if the issues weren't caused by intentional neglect.2 In one case, maintenance workers for an Upper West Side apartment complex went on strike for 17 days and caused a “substantial” interruption in garbage disposal, janitorial, and repair services. When the tenants sued, the court ruled that their warranty of habitability had been violated.
But in another case, residents fled their apartments before Hurricane Sandy hit and returned after the storm had passed and cleanup had occurred. The court found no breach of the warranty, since they a) weren’t living in the rental unit at the time it lacked essential services and b) had left their apartments to stay with friends and family in a safer area, not because their units had become inhabitable.3
Complying with the renter’s reasonable expectations
The reasonable expectations of the renter have a lot to do with the type of rental unit and the amenities it contains. The residence does not have to be perfect in every way, but it must meet the renter’s expectations at the time they signed the lease. In one case, the renter’s air conditioning failed to work during the summer. Not every tenant is entitled to a cool residence during the summer, but renters who specifically choose a unit with air conditioning certainly are. Hence, the court found that the warranty had been breached.4
In another case, this one from 2016, the tenant in a high-end Brooklyn Heights building wasn’t able to use their terrace for an extended period due to repairs. They were awarded damages for the entire time that the terrace wasn’t usable.5
Being free from “dangerous or hazardous conditions”
Most violations of this type are fairly obvious—according to one New York court decision, "no one will dispute that health and safety are adversely affected by insect or rodent infestation, insufficient heat and plumbing facilities, significantly dangerous electrical outlets or wiring, [or] inadequate sanitation facilities."2
However, it’s important to note that there can be conditions within an apartment that could potentially be hazardous but would not constitute a breach. In one instance, an infant was burned by an exposed radiator in an apartment. The court held that even though a hazardous condition existed in the apartment, it was known to the renters and necessary to make the space livable, so there was no violation of the warranty.6
No official process to deal with violations of the warranty
Some states require renters to follow a specific procedure when informing their landlord of a violation, then give them a specific length of time to fix the problem. However, the New York statutes don’t provide any sort of protocol tenants must follow. Given this lack of specificity, the “reasonable person” standard applies—meaning that the process depends on the nature of the problem and how a reasonable person would go about dealing with it. In one case, for instance, the court found that 18 hours was too long to fix a broken door lock.7
As a New York tenant, it’s generally best to inform a landlord or rental agency of the issue in writing and send it via certified mail or physically hand it to someone with the power and authority to fix the problem. This way, no one can claim that they weren’t notified.
If a landlord has been informed of the issue and has taken no steps to fix it, a tenant may consider constructive eviction as a way to legally get out of their lease—and find a different, habitable, apartment.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.