ALBANY – Tenants in New York scored another victory this week, with the signing into law of legislation sponsored by State Senator Robert Jackson and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (A5040/S2014). The new law, which was signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on December 21, 2021, and is effective immediately, prohibits landlords from including any legal fees that have not been awarded pursuant to a court order on any correspondence to a tenant. This law applies to all tenants, including both rent regulated and market tenants as well as renters in coop apartments, but it will not apply to cooperative apartment shareholders.
Housing costs in New York are notoriously high and nearly half of all New Yorkers live below or close to the poverty line. Households are rent burdened if they spend at least 30% of their incomes on rent. According to a recent report from the Office of the State Comptroller, nearly 50% of all households in both New York City (48%) and New York State (47%) were rent burdened before the pandemic, figures which are widely expected to have increased over the past several years.
In addition to the underlying challenge of rent-burdened households, some unscrupulous landlords have incorporated into their standard business practices the inclusion of additional non-rent fees in rent statements and demand notices. One common example of this behavior is a fee or surcharge for legal services, for which a landlord only has the legal authority to impose if the following conditions are met: 1) the tenant’s lease has a clause that allows the landlord to seek such fees; 2) the tenant is sued by the landlord in court; and 3) either a judge has ordered a tenant to pay the legal fees or the tenant has agreed to pay the fee in a court approved agreement. Prior to this new law, many tenants would feel compelled to pay legal fees that were not appropriately charged out of fear of eviction.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “One of the most impactful things our government can do for its residents is to help keep people in their homes. The improper use of legal fees to intimidate tenants into self-evicting or over-paying is unacceptable, and I am proud that the law has now been changed to prevent landlords from this unscrupulous and improper tactic. Thank you to State Senator Jackson for his leadership on this bill in the other chamber, to Governor Hochul for signing it into law, and to all of my colleagues for their support as well.”
State Senator Robert Jackson said: “For far too long, landlords have bullied tenants into self-evicting or overpaying by burdening them with legal court fees. This practice has created undue psychological and economic barriers to maintaining access to housing, while intimidating tenants from speaking up about violations against dignified and affordable housing. I am proud to have partnered with Assemblymember Dinowitz to upend this scheme of draining money from tenants. And I thank Governor Hochul for signing our bill into law this month, as many tenants look towards January with the hope of extending the eviction moratorium. As always, in unity, there is always strength.”