What is a lease?

A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant which contains the terms and conditions of the rental. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless both parties agree. Leases for apartments which are not rent stabilized may be oral or written. However, to avoid disputes the parties may wish to enter into a written agreement. A party must sign the lease in order to be bound by its terms. An oral lease for more than one year cannot be legally enforced. General Obligations Law § 5-701.

At a minimum, leases should identify the premises, specify the names and addresses of the parties, the amount and due dates of the rent, the duration of the rental, the conditions of occupancy, and the rights and obligations of both parties. Except where the law provides otherwise, a landlord may rent on such terms and conditions as are agreed to by the parties.

Any changes to the lease should be initialed by both parties. New York City rent stabilized tenants are entitled to receive from their landlords a fully executed copy of their signed lease within 30 days of the landlord’s receipt of the lease signed by the tenant. The lease’s beginning and ending dates must be stated. Rent stabilized tenants must also be given a rent stabilization lease rider, prepared by DHCR, which summarizes their rights under the law and provides specific information on how the rent was calculated.

LEASE PROVISIONS

Leases must use words with common and everyday meanings and must be clear and coherent. Sections of leases must be appropriately captioned and the print must be large enough to be read easily. General Obligations Law § 5-702; NY C.P.L.R. § 4544.

The following lease provisions are void:

  • Exempting landlords from liability for injuries to persons or property caused by the landlord’s negligence, or that of the landlord’s employees or agents
  • Waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit brought by either of the parties against the other for personal injury or property damage
  • Requiring tenants to pledge their household furniture as security for rent
  • General Obligations Law § 5-321; Real Property Law • § 259-c and § 231.

If a lease states that the landlord may recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred if a lawsuit arises, a tenant automatically has a reciprocal right to recover those fees as well. Real Property Law § 234.

If the court finds a lease or any lease clause to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, the court may refuse to enforce the lease or the clause in question. Real Property Law § 235-c.


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