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Everything You Need to Know About Fire Safety and Rental Rights

Here's what New Yorkers need to know about their rental rights that guarantee their fire safety and quality of their housing.

In New York City, tenants have rental rights that guarantee the safety and quality of their housing. The law requires landlords to provide a safe, well-maintained structure with fire safety measures that is also secure, free of vermin, leaks and other hazards. Tenants are also protected from discrimination and harassment, as well as from eviction without proper procedure. 

Following the recent fires in the Bronx, members of our WhatsApp community have asked us various questions regarding their rights as tenants. Here is our city-backed guidance about how to protect yourself as a tenant.

Rental Rights and Fire Safety

Rental Rights to a Smoke Detector/Alarm

Before signing a lease, you must inquire about the location of the smoke detectors located in the apartment. By law, your landlord must install an approved smoke detector in each dwelling unit. The detector must be fully functional and the sound must be easy to hear. According to a report by the National Fire Protection Association, “the risk of dying in reported home structure fires is 55 percent lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes with no alarms or none that worked.”

Additionally, there must be at least one smoke detector in each apartment within ten feet of each room used for sleeping. 

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Owners of Class A and Class B Multiple Dwellings, apartments that consist of bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and one- and two-family homes (non-owner occupied) are required to install carbon monoxide detectors. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas that is responsible for 430 deaths in the U.S. each year, with approximately 50,000 people visiting the emergency room due to accidental poisoning. Some of the sources for CO to escape might be gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers, and other fires that use gas, oil, coal and wood.

CO intoxication is preventable. While the law requires your landlord to install functional CO detectors, it is your responsibility as a tenant to test it once a month and replace the batteries at least twice a year. 

Can I Request Window Guards?

In all buildings with three or more apartments, New York City law requires that building owners install window guards if a child age 10 years or younger lives there or if the tenant or occupant requests window guards for any reason. 

In addition, building owners must send notices to tenants every January to ask if children who are 10 years or younger are living in the unit, or if the tenant would like to request a window guard for any reason. If a landlord fails to comply, the city will fine them.

Also read: FASTEN: Rental Assistance for Tenants Facing Housing Insecurity in New York

What is Lead Poisoning? 

Lead build up and poisoning can occur due to years of exposure to dust, chips or peeling lead based paint. It is the owners responsibility to fix any damages in the home. The tenant must let the landlord know of any peeling paint (also check your ceiling), or hazardous conditions overall, and make sure that it is taken care of. If you feel that the problem was not fixed, you can call 311. 

You can also request a free home assessment for lead hazards if all of the following are true:

  • Your building was built before 1960 (or if the building was built between 1960 and 1978 and the owner knows the building has lead paint).
  • Your building has three or more apartments.
  • A child 5 years or younger lives in your apartment or regularly spends 10 or more hours a week there. 

Entrance Door Locks, Intercoms, and Lighting

Buildings with multiple apartment units are required to have self-locking doors at all entrances to ensure the safety of the tenants and prevent break-ins from occurring. Additionally, for structures with more than 8 dwellings, there must be a two-way intercom system that allows individuals to buzz open the entrance for visitors from their unit. 

All hallways, stairs, and entrances must also be well lit. A tenant can add additional locks to their door, but must provide a copy of the key to the landlord if requested.  

Rent Increases and Late Fees

Can my landlord charge late fees? 

A landlord can only charge a late fee if the payment is received five days after it is due. The amount must be 5% or $50.00, whichever is less. 

Can my landlord increase rent during renewal? 

For non-regulated units: if the increase is more than 5%, they must provide a written notice in advance depending on the time that you have lived there. 

If more than 2 years: 90 days in advance

If more than 1 year but less than 2: 60 days in advance

Less than a year: 30 days in advance 

Rent stabilized tenants: the maximum increase must be based in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Rent Guidelines Board, or on a specific ground set forth in the Rent Stabilization Code.

Rent controlled tenants: a landlord is limited to increasing a rent-controlled tenant’s rent by the average of the five most recent Rent Guidelines Board annual rent increases for one-year lease renewals, or 7.5% (whichever is less).

Also Read: ‘Not Happening in White Communities’: The Data Behind NYC Fires

What is Rent Control?  

Rent control applies to residential buildings constructed before February, 1947 in New York City and certain parts of Albany, Erie, Nassau, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Westchester counties. It limits the rent an owner may charge for an apartment and restricts the right of the owner to evict tenants. For an apartment to be rent controlled, a tenant or a lawful successor must have been living in the apartment continuously since July, 1st 1971 – sometimes since April 1, 1953. 

How Do I Know If My Apartment is Rent Stabilized?

To find out the rental history of your apartment, if your apartment is rent stabilized, you can inquire about it online by entering your name, address, and a valid email address on the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal portal.

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