In New York, as in other states, residential landlords have a variety of duties that they must uphold. This includes a duty to maintain the cleanliness of a “multiple dwelling.” Failure to do so may give one of your tenants a right to terminate the lease early, or even to sue and recover damages. Given the risk of liability, it’s important to understand your responsibilities and the limitations under the law as a residential landlord.
Let’s consider the basics.
Landlords Have a Duty to Keep Dwellings Clean
Section 80 of the New York Multiple Dwellings Law describes the duty of cleanliness imposed on residential landlords in the state. According to the statute, the owner of a multiple dwelling must keep each part — including the lot, common areas, and areas adjacent or appurtenant to the dwelling — clean and free from vermin, dirt, filth, garbage, or any other thing dangerous to life or health. The multiple dwelling must be thoroughly cleansed and kept clean to the satisfaction of the Housing Department.
There are a number of specific requirements imposed on landlords that are worth keeping in mind. If there are carpets and rugs in any public areas of the multiple dwelling, then the owner must clean them at least once on an annual basis, or more often if the Housing Department deems it necessary. Further, the interior walls of every common area and dwelling (whether tenant-occupied or not) must be painted or papered, and the ceilings kalsomined or painted to keep the surfaces in a sanitary condition.
This might seem like an enormous burden placed on a New York landlord — and it is a relatively heavy burden, that much is true — but it should be noted that tenant complaints are not necessarily proof of a violation. In other words, a dwelling may actually be “clean” under the law, even if your tenants think that it is not.
Tenant's Perception of Cleanliness is Not Controlling
A determination of whether a multiple dwelling is "clean" in some instances is objective, whereas in other instances such may be subjective. For example, if a tenant complains that there is a rat infestation, an evaluation by pest control professionals will determine whether the tenant correctly identified a cleanliness problem. On the other hand, if a tenant complains that the common areas of the multiple dwelling are too “dirty,” that is considered to be a subjective assessment.
Whether the common areas are dirty to the extent that they violate the law will depend on whether the perceived lack of cleanliness is dangerous to life or health. If a wall in one of the common areas has a large stain, that is not necessarily perceived as dangerous to a tenant's life or health. However, if the wall is covered in so much dust that it could cause allergies and even an asthma attack, then it must be cleaned to avoid a violation of the law.
Contact an Attorney Experienced in New York Landlord Tenant Law for Comprehensive Assistance
Here at Griffin Alexander, P.C., our attorneys have decades of combined experience advocating on behalf of residential landlords in a variety of landlord-tenant disputes, including those that involve purported violations of cleanliness.
Over the years, we have gained substantial insight into the particularities of landlord-tenant disputes and how best to navigate such disputes so as to secure a win for our clients. Given our deep knowledge of New York landlord tenant law, we are uniquely well-equipped to represent clients in situations that may involve quite complicated questions of law, such as disputes surrounding the “cleanliness” of a multiple dwelling.
Interested in learning more about your rights as a landlord? We encourage you to call (973) 366-1188 or request an appointment through our website to connect to one of the attorneys at Griffin Alexander, P.C.