Resource: Legal Information for Tenants and Homeowners

Legal Information for Tenants

It’s against the law for your landlord to lock you out! (even if you owe rent, & even if the house is in foreclosure) If you have lived in an apartment, SRO, room, or adult home for more than thirty (30) days, a landlord cannot force you to move without taking you to court, even if you owe rent, and even if the building or house is in foreclosure. The landlord has to get an order from the judge before she or he can force you to move. And only a Marshall with a court order can actually move your belongings. If the landlord changes the locks on your door, remove your possessions, or turn off electrical or other essential services in an attempt to force you to move out, you can file an illegal lockout case in housing court. The Police are required to assist you to enforce your rights. Illegal eviction is a crime!

Landlords are still required to make repairs to their buildings, even in a disaster. If the landlord is not making efforts to make repairs and restore services quickly one or more tenants can start an “HP Action” in Housing Court. Tell the court that you have a hurricane-related emergency and call 3-1-1 to get an inspection of your apartment. If electricity or other utilities have not been restored, you can also name ConEdison (or any other utility provider for your apartment/building) as a party to the lawsuit.

Tenants who are locked out their apartments can get help in housing court, and may qualify for relocation assistance. If you had to leave your apartment due to storm damage or a utility shutoff, and the landlord won’t let you back in, you should file an “illegal lockout petition” in Housing Court. You will be able to see a judge as early as the next day, and the judge will order the landlord to let you back in as soon as conditions permit. If you are unable to get back in to your home, you may be eligible for assistance from FEMA or HRA.

If you live in a rent-stabilized or rent controlled apartment and you have been displaced from your apartment, you can file a complaint with the DHCR to have your rent reduced to $1 per month until you have been allowed to return. In addition, you may be able to take your landlord to Small Claims Court for monetary damages due to decreased services or for poor conditions in your apartment (especially if electricity or other disrupted utilities are included in your rent).

Tenants who remain in their apartments may be owed a rent reduction depending on the services they have lost. Many landlords are agreeing to give tenants rent reductions for hurricane related problems. If you are unable to work out an arrangement, you should think carefully about holding back the rent, since housing court can be unpredictable, unjust, and your case can end up on a tenant screening “blacklist,” which can make it hard for you to find another apartment. If you do decide to hold back the rent, make sure you save it so you can show the judge if your landlord takes you to court.

If you are unable to continue to live in your apartment because of damage caused by the storm, you may have the right to break your lease. Tenants without a lease have the right to move at any time. If you have a lease, speak with your landlord if you feel that the conditions are so bad that you need to move out. You may be entitled to a rent credit (abatement) or the landlord may even offer tenants money to move out. If the services will take more than a month to restore, you can probably break your lease Since the law is unclear in this area, try to speak with a lawyer first, because the landlord might try to sue you for the months remaining on your lease.

Legal Information for Homeowners

  • Homeowners do NOT have to pay hurricane deductibles on insurance claims.
  • Homeowners who experienced property losses should file insurance claims with their insurers and with FEMA promptly and as soon as possible after losses occur. Remember to provide policy numbers and all information relevant to the loss.
  • To best document losses, homeowners should to take photos or videos showing the extent of the losses before cleaning up damage.
  • Homeowners should make only necessary repairs to prevent further damage to property, like covering broken windows. Permanent repairs should not be made until after insurers have inspected losses. Damaged personal property should be kept until after an insurance settlement has been reached.
  • Keep a diary of all conversations with the insurance agent, including the agent’s name, as well as the times and dates of all calls or visits.
  • Homeowners are also reminded that flood damage is only covered by flood insurance, which is a federal program administered by FEMA. Homeowners who have flood insurance and have flood damage should make claims through that insurance.
  • Homeowners unable to resolve disputes with insurers can file complaints at http://www.dfs.ny.gov/consumer/fileacomplaint.htm or call DFS (see below).

Taxpayers can  deduct non-reimbursed losses that occurred in a Federally declared disaster area in the year the disaster occurred, OR  file an amended return and deduct the loss in the year immediately preceding the year the disaster occurred. For more info visit http://www.benefits.gov/benefits/benefit-details/4418, call the IRS at IRS at 1-866-562-5227 or contact a Tax Assistance Center:  Staten Island:  (212) 436-1000, Brooklyn: (718) 488-2068m Manhattan:(212) 719-6631.

Legal Resources

  • Department of Financial Services: Disaster Hotline- 800-339-1759.
  • Monday – Friday from 8 AM – 8 PM and Saturday – Sunday from 9 AM – 4 PM.  If you are having problems with your insurance claims, you can also file a complaint with them here.
  • The Legal Services NYC City-Wide Sandy Recovery Hotline (347) 592-2411. From10am-3pm.  LSNYC Legal staff can help answer any questions you may have about how the recovery affects your public benefits, foreclosure, employment, housing, how to access assistance, and more. Just call .
  • NYLAG has launched a new Storm Relief Effort Hotline:  212-584-3365 or email at StormHelp@nylag.org.  For more info you can also visit: nylag.org/stormhelp.
  • The City Hotline for general information: 855-NYS-SAND(Y)

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