What happens if my landlord doesn't renew my rent stabilized lease?! Nothing. (Really.)

June 29, 2017

 

Alexander Ryley

Director, Elderly Project

One of the most common concerns I hear from anxious tenants at our legal clinics goes like this:

“My landlord hasn’t sent me my new lease, and so I’m really worried that he’s going to evict me!”

Here's the good news that I share with these tenants: If a rent stabilized tenant does not receive a renewal lease, it’s a problem for the landlord, not the tenant, because the only consequence of not receiving a new renewal lease is that the landlord can’t charge the higher rent that would appear in the new lease.  Read on to learn more.

What is a "renewal" lease, anyway?

When a tenant moves into a rent stabilized apartment, she receives what we call an “initial” (or "first") lease.  The initial lease may contain clauses having to do with all sorts of things besides the amount of the rent: pets, air conditioners, late fees, washing machines – you name it.  After that lease, what the tenant receives every one or two years going forward is a rent stabilized renewal lease.  (Click here to see an example.) Unlike the initial lease, the renewal lease is just one page long (though it may have some riders attached). The law says that these renewal leases cannot change any of the terms and conditions of the initial lease.  So for instance, if the initial lease didn’t say anything about pets, the landlord can’t legally attach a “no pets” rider to a renewal lease.

When must the landlord deliver a renewal lease to the tenant?

The landlord must deliver the renewal lease to the tenant – by mail or by hand – between 150 and 90 days before the end of the current lease.  The delivery is considered an “offer” of the renewal lease; the tenant has 60 days in which to respond to the offer.

So, for instance, if an initial lease ends on 12/31/17, the landlord must not deliver the renewal lease before approximately August 1, 2017, and must not deliver it after approximately October 1, 2017.

What if the landlord delivers the renewal lease late -- or never?

Here are two very important things to understand about a landlord's late delivery of a renewal lease, or failure to deliver one at all:

First, if the landlord does not offer a renewal lease to the tenant, nothing changes – including the rent.  The tenant’s rights are totally unaffected, and the landlord cannot raise the rent.  (MCI increases are a different matter -- but that's a story for another day.)

Second, if the landlord does finally deliver the renewal lease late – that is, fewer than 90 days before the end of the existing lease – the tenant gets to choose from two dates when the renewal lease starts.  The tenant can choose to allow the renewal lease to start EITHER:

  1. on the date when the renewal lease should ordinarily have begun (that is, on the day following the expiration date of the last lease); OR
  2. on the first day of the month following 90 days after the lease renewal offer is made. (I know – this is confusing.)

Consider this example:

Existing lease ends on 12/31/17; renewal should be delivered no later than by about 10/1/17. Landlord finally offers renewal lease on 1/15/18 (over 3 months late).

In this case, the tenant can choose either:

  • Start date of 1/1/18 (the day following the expiration date of the last lease); OR
  • Start date of 4/1/18 (the rent-payment date that comes up after 90 days following 1/15/18, the date the landlord offered the renewal lease).

This can be an important decision: The rent increase may be lower on the later start date, because the Rent Guidelines Board authorizes different percentage increases every year. 

Now, the late renewal lease may contain one of these two appropriate start dates, but it may instead contain some other start date that the landlord has made up.  So the tenant needs to:

  • Figure out what the two proper possible start dates are;
  • If necessary, cross out the start and end dates appearing on the lease, write in the correct dates, and initial the changes; and
  • Sign and date the lease and return it to the landlord.

What if the landlord doesn’t deliver a renewal lease but the tenant really wants one, or the landlord does deliver a lease but refuses to accept the start date the tenant has written in?

Some tenants just feel more comfortable with a current renewal lease, or they participate in public benefits programs that ask for a current lease.  Others may follow the procedure outlined above and find that the landlord refuses to sign the renewal lease whose start and end dates have been altered.  What to do?

In these situations, the tenant can file a complaint with the New York State agency known as HCR (Homes & Community Renewal, formerly known as the Division of Housing & Community Renewal, or DHCR).  To file such a complaint, the tenant fills out a complaint form – available by clicking here – called “Tenant’s Complaint of Owner’s Failure to Renew Lease and/or Failure to Furnish a Copy of a Signed Lease.”  (As you can tell from the form’s name, it can also be filed when a tenant has signed a renewal lease and sent it back to the landlord, but the landlord has failed to return it with the landlord’s signature.)  The form is simple enough so that the tenant does not need the assistance of a lawyer; the tenant should keep a copy for her records and mail it to HCR via certified mail. 

Questions?

As always, if you have questions about landlord-tenant issues, please feel free to contact me directly.  Or if your clients have such questions, please direct them to one of our many monthly legal clinics.