Is a tenant legally allowed to not pay their landlord in New York State? If you rent an apartment or house in New York, there may be certain times when you can withhold or reduce your rent payment to your landlord. Thankfully, for renters, New York offers a number of protections against slumlords or landlords who just can't seem to fix problems in a timely manner.

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NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 03: A flooded basement level apartment stands in a Queens neighborhood that saw massive flooding and numerous deaths following a night of heavy wind and rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 03, 2021 in New York City. Over 40 people were killed on the East Coast by tornadoes and flash floods did heavy damage to parts of New York and New Jersey as the evening storm caught many off guard with the severity of its rain, wind and flooding. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

If a rental unit is damaged, whether by a natural disaster or neglect, a tenant can legally withhold rent to fix the damages. But, there are legal guidelines that should be followed. According to New York law, a landlord must allow you to inspect the property prior to moving in.  This gives you an opportunity to note any damages that need to be repaired.  Be sure to take photos and notify the landlord in writing of anything that needs to be fixed.

Renters can do repairs in order to make their unit habitable, but there are steps that must be followed. A person cannot just withhold rent and use the money to go shopping or spend it. According to the New York State Attorney General Letitia James,

If a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability, the tenant may sue for a rent reduction. The tenant may also withhold rent, but in response, the landlord may sue the tenant for nonpayment of rent. In such case, the tenant may countersue for breach of the warranty.


Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash
Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

Keep in mind, that your landlord, shocked that rent has been reduced, may decide to sue you or start the eviction process. That's why it is imperative that you document everything that is wrong with photos and videos. Make sure that you only hire licensed contractors to make the repairs. Keep copies of your receipts and any written estimates or an itemized list of damages provided by the contractor. It's also in your best interest to put aside the money to cover your rent in full because you may end up in court and a judge could potentially rule that the repairs were not justified. New York State law governs the habitability of rental properties,

In every written or oral lease or rental agreement for residential premises the landlord or lessor shall be deemed to covenant and warrant that the premises so leased or rented and all areas used in connection therewith in common with other tenants or residents are fit for human habitation and for the uses reasonably intended by the parties and that the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety.

Another thing to remember is that the damages you withhold rent from cannot be caused by you or your family.  If you do have legit repairs, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. says you should,

1. Write to the landlord again, telling him that if the work isn't done, you plan to do it and deduct the cost. Keep a copy of this letter.
2. Get receipts for all parts and/or labor.
3. The costs of all repairs must be reasonable.
4. When you pay the next month's rent, include a letter that says what work you did, why, and how much it cost - which is the amount you will deduct. Send copies of the receipts; keep the originals. If the landlord tries to evict you for not paying all the rent, you will have good records of what you did, and why.

The key to legally withholding rent in New York is how you handle it. Provide a written complaint of any issues to your landlord with photo and video evidence. If your landlord doesn't respond or make repairs, you can contact a state inspector. If you need to make the repairs, keep all receipts, used licensed contractors and have the amount withheld from rent put away to cover rent, in case you must go to court.

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