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Illegal Lease Clauses in New York

Lease agreements in New York must be written in clear, easy-to-understand language. They also can't waive a tenant's right to a habitable apartment or a trial by jury.

New York leases are legally required to be written in easily-understandable language that’s both clear and coherent. In addition, the individual sections are expected to be captioned appropriately,1 and the print must be big enough to read easily.2

Sometimes, leases contain provisions that go against state law. These illegal clauses are considered void and can’t be enforced in court. Ideally, a tenant would be able to identify any illegal clauses before entering into the lease and ask the landlord to cross them out. But even if a tenant ends up signing such a rental agreement, those terms don't apply.

According to New York state law, all of the following clauses are illegal and unenforceable:

  • Making a landlord exempt from liability for injuries or damage caused by their negligence (or the negligence of any employees or agents)3
  • Waiving a tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit concerning property damage or personal injury4
  • Forcing a tenant to promise their furniture or other personal property as security for rent5
  • Stating that a landlord may recover attorney’s fees and costs from a related lawsuit, but a tenant cannot (tenants automatically have a reciprocal right to recover fees if the landlord does)6
  • Waiving a tenant’s right to a livable, safe, and sanitary apartment
  • Banning a tenant from subletting (assuming they live in a building with four or more apartments)
  • Requiring a tenant to pay additional rent or other fees for the installation or an additional lock7

Often, if a lease includes an illegal term, that specific clause is considered unenforceable—but the rest of the agreement still applies. However, a New York court may also rule that the entire lease is unenforceable if they find it was “unconscionable at the time it was made.”8

[1] General Obligations Law § 5-702

[2] NY C.P.L.R. § 4544

[3] General Obligations Law § 5-321

[4] Real Property Law§ 259-c

[5] Real Property Law § 231(4)

[6] Real Property Law § 234

[7] Multiple Dwelling Law § 51-c

[8] Real Property Law § 235-c

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.