New York state allows the eviction of a tenant for many reasons, including nonpayment of rent or violating the lease in some other way. However, landlords cannot just throw the tenant's belongings on the street and change the locks. They have to go through the court system and allow a sheriff to carry out the eviction. Before a landlord or property owner can evict someone legally, they must follow proper procedures.
Eviction and Termination Without Cause
A landlord cannot end a relationship with a tenant without cause. If they do not have a reason to end a tenancy, they must wait until the tenant's lease or rental period ends before asking them to move. For a month-to-month tenant, a landlord without cause must give the tenant a notice of 30 days if they have occupied the unit for a minimum of a year; 60 days' notice if the tenant has occupied the unit from one to two years; and 90 days' notice if they have been in the rental unit for more than two years.
If the landlord does not have cause to remove a tenant, they must wait for the contract or lease for a fixed term, such as six months or a year, to end before asking tenants to move. When the time is complete, a landlord does not need to give a tenant notice to vacate unless the terms of the lease state that they do. The landlord can expect a tenant to move when their lease ends unless the tenant has indicated otherwise by asking for a renewal.
Grounds for Eviction With Cause in New York State
Renters in New York state can face eviction for several reasons, the most common of which is a failure to pay rent. According to N.Y. Real Prop. Acts Section 711(2), if a tenant does not pay rent, the landlord must notify them that they have 14 days to pay rent or leave. If they do not do either, eviction proceedings can begin.
Landlords can end a tenancy in New York State for other reasons, including:
- Violation of the Rental Agreement or Lease Terms: If a tenant violates their lease in some way, such as keeping a pet when the lease expressly forbids it, the landlord must allow them 10 days to fix the problem before taking steps to evict them. If they do not fix the lease violation, the landlord must give them notice of termination, and if they do not move out within 30 days, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings.
- End of Lease or No Lease: Also known as "tenancy at will," once the lease ends or there is no lease, the landlord does not need a reason to end the renter's tenancy, as long as they give the renter proper notice.
- Committing Illegal Activity: If a tenant commits an illegal activity while renting the premises, the landlord does not have to give prior notice of eviction.
The Eviction Process
When a landlord wishes to start eviction proceedings, they must file a petition with the housing or district court in the county where the property is. The court will schedule a time and date with a judge and notify the tenant of the upcoming hearing. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, they must do so in the hearing. The judge will listen to both the tenant and landlord make their cases and then make a decision regarding the eviction.
If the tenant is unsuccessful in their legal challenge, they may be on the hook for the landlord's court and lawyer's fees. They may also receive a negative credit score as a result of eviction and have trouble finding another place to live. It is in a tenant's best interest to avoid eviction in the first place and try to work something out with the landlord before their case goes to court. They can consult with a free or low-cost mediation service.
Removing a Tenant and Their Property
In New York State, it is illegal for a landlord to force a tenant out of their rental unit. The landlord can remove them only with a court order after successfully winning an eviction lawsuit, and the only person who can legally remove the evicted tenant from their rental unit is a sheriff.
When a tenant finally does move out, they may leave behind some personal property. Most states have laws on what to do with abandoned property, but New York does not. The landlord should not dispose of it immediately, however. They should first attempt to contact the tenant and give them reasonable time to claim it. If they don't collect it within that time, the landlord can dispose of it as they see fit.
Self-help Actions Are Illegal
New York landlords should never take matters into their own hands to evict a tenant. Not only is it illegal, but the tenant can sue for damages. Retaliatory behavior like turning off the utilities or otherwise interfering with a tenant's access or use of a property is known as a self-help eviction.
If a tenant successfully sues a landlord for damages as the result of a self-help eviction, the landlord may owe triple the amount of the actual damages. New York considers self-help eviction a misdemeanor, and a landlord can face a civil penalty of $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.
Follow the Proper Eviction Procedures
It is critical for a landlord to follow eviction procedures to the letter of the law – failing to do so may render the eviction invalid. For example, a landlord must give the tenant notice before attempting an eviction. If they fail to do that and file for eviction with the court anyway, the tenant can use the lack of notice as a defense.
If the tenant is successful, the eviction stops, and the court requires the landlord to give the tenant notice. If they still fail to pay rent, the landlord must file a new eviction lawsuit. This defense will not stop an eviction from happening – it will only delay it until the landlord follows the proper procedures. When they do, the eviction can proceed.
Maintain the Rental Property
New York state law requires all landlords and property owners to keep their rental units habitable for residential tenants. They must supply the units with the necessary utilities, such as heat and running water, and make the required repairs to keep the unit in livable condition for tenants. If they fail to do this, the tenant has some options:
- They can withhold rent until the landlord makes the repairs. If they do this, they should give notice in writing of the repairs needed to the landlord and allow them reasonable time to make the repairs. The tenant can withhold rent until the landlord makes the repairs.
- Tenants can make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the rent due. If they do this, they should notify the landlord of the repairs needed in writing and give them time to make the repairs. If the landlord fails to do this, and the tenant moves forward with the repairs, they should keep receipts and invoices relating to the repairs and provide the landlord with copies.
Before choosing either of these options, a tenant should consult a lawyer to ensure they follow best practices. If the landlord still tries to evict them after the tenant exercises these options, the tenant can prove the landlord did not maintain the rental unit in accordance with the law.
Eviction Due to Discrimination
Federal, state and local housing laws protect tenants from discrimination. The Fair Housing Act, the New York State Human Rights Law and local laws in cities around New York state protect against discrimination of tenants by landlords and property owners. The Fair Housing Act makes discrimination based on someone's familial status (families with children under 18), color, race, national origin, mental or physical disability, religion or sex illegal.
The New York State Human Rights Law also protects these classes of people but adds age, creed, marital and military status and sexual orientation to this list. Local governments may further add to the protected classes. For example, New York City protects tenants based on all of the above, plus citizenship status, gender, gender identity, lawful occupation, partnership status, gender identity, lawful occupation, and lawful source of income, including housing or public assistance, Social Security, SSI, annuities, pensions or unemployment insurance benefits.
Evicting Squatters in New York
Squatters occupy properties that belong to another person without their permission. A landlord or property owner will usually attempt to evict a squatter, but if they live on the property for 10 continuous years, New York State may allow them to claim ownership legally through squatter's rights.
As with a tenant, a landlord cannot remove the squatters, change the locks or throw their belongings away. When they find the squatter, they must immediately alert law enforcement. The landlord must also serve the squatter with specific notices before filing an eviction lawsuit with the courts. These include:
- Notice of Petition: Informs the squatter that the landlord has set a court date for the eviction hearing.
- Petition to Recover Possession of Real Property and Affidavit of Service: Explains why landlord has filed for eviction against the squatter.
- Affidavit of Service: Details how the landlord served the squatter.
COVID-19 and Evictions in New York State
When the COVID-19 coronavirus shut down the country in March 2020, millions of tenants who were unable to work were also unable to pay their rent. The eviction moratorium through Congress' CARES Act started on March 27, 2020, and ended on July 24, 2020. That meant landlords could not force tenants to vacate until August 23, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had its own federal eviction moratorium from September 4, 2020 through October 3, 2021.
Since then, states have made the decision to either extend eviction moratoriums or do away with them entirely. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a new eviction moratorium for renters, which will be effective until January 15, 2022. The new law protects residential and commercial tenants suffering from financial hardships due to the continuing pandemic. Those who still struggle to make rent can apply for rent relief assistance through New York's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Applicants have protection from eviction during the application process and can receive a year of eviction protection if they qualify.
- Find Law: New York Consolidated Laws Section 711. Grounds Where Landlord-tenant Relationship Exists
- NOLO: Consequences of Illegal Evictions
- NOLO: Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in New York
- IPropertyManagement.com: New York Eviction Process
- NOLO: The Eviction Process in New York: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers
- NOLO: Tenant Defenses to Evictions in New York
- Congress.gov: Federal Eviction Moratoriums in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Leticia James, Attorney General: Fair Housing
- New York State Governor's Office: Governor Hochul Signs New Moratorium on COVID-related Residential and Commercial Evictions into Law, Effective Through January 15, 2022
- IPropertyManagement.com: Squatter’s Rights in New York
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.