Eviction Tenant Defense

We previously wrote about a landlord’s responsibilities, which include when he/she can evict a tenant. Flipping it around, if you are a tenant, you should know the circumstances a landlord can legally evict you, and the proper procedures he/she must go through. If these are not followed, you have specific legal defenses at your disposal.

Why a landlord can evict you

In New York, the most common reason for eviction is the non-payment of rent. Another popular eviction cause is lease violations. The landlord cannot put anything in the lease that is a violation of federal or local laws. For instance, the owner cannot evict you for having children. Additionally, the property owner cannot force you to waive your right to warrant of habitability.

You can violate the terms of your lease by having certain appliances that are explicitly not allowed or subletting when this activity is forbidden. However, in these situations, the landlord needs to follow the proper process and provide you with the required notice.

Non-Payment of Rent

Your first defense, if the landlord is evicting you due to the non-payment of rent, is that you were not given proper notice. He/she must provide you with three days of notification. The notice needs to state explicitly that you have three days to either pay the rent or move out. If you simply do either action, you have avoided an eviction. But, if you do not do either, your landlord can start eviction proceedings. Should you not receive the required notice, you have a legitimate defense.

Similarly, for evictions due to lease violations, the landlord is required to give you ten days notice. During this period, you can fix the violation, and the eviction cannot proceed. If you do not do so within the prescribed time frame, to evict you, the landlord has to provide a notice of termination. This must provide you at least 30 days to move out. Should this period elapse, the landlord must file an eviction with the court.

Failure to Maintain

Aside from the time requirements, you have a legitimate defense if your landlord failed to maintain your unit in the proper condition, including making necessary repairs. If he/she does not do so, you can either withhold the rent until the repairs are done, or fix the issue yourself and deduct it from your rental payment. You cannot get evicted should you do either one.

The landlord cannot take matters into his/her own hands. This means he/she cannot make it inhabitable or block your access, even if you have not paid the rent. Forbidden actions include turning off the utilities, removing the doors, or changing the locks. If he/she takes an illegal action, you can sue your landlord.

Eviction Process

New York’s eviction process is arduous. The landlord must make a filing in court. This is even more inconvenient if he/she lives outside of the city since the petition’s filing must take place in the county where the rental property is located. The judge assigns a hearing date, listens to both sides, and makes a ruling. This is a time-consuming process, though. Failure to follow these steps may cause the owner’s eviction invalid. This is not a defense, but a delay tactic. The landlord can fix his/her actions to make it valid.

If you feel the owner is evicting you because of your race, religion, gender, national origin, family status, and disability, then your landlord has violated the Fair Housing Act. New York State and New York City have added prohibitions against discriminating by creed, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, and lawful occupation and sources of income.


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