September 11, 2012

New York State Official: Landlords, Students Must Be ‘Reasonable People’

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To combat tenant-landlord acrimony, students, landlords and city officials met Tuesday at a meeting of the Collegetown Neighborhood Council to discuss the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords.

Michael Danaher, assistant attorney general of New York State, dispensed a mixture of common sense advice and practical legal knowledge as he asked both landlords and tenants to be “reasonable people” when working together.

Quoting numerous statutes regarding renting, Danaher said that landlords are legally given “a reasonable amount of time” to make repairs to their properties. At the same time, other statutes, he said, give tenants the right to “reasonable wear and tear” on the property without incurring a cost.

Danaher also emphasized the importance of landlords obtaining written agreements from tenants.

“The best thing I can give you, advice-wise, in terms of tenants and landlords, is get everything in writing,” he said.

In the state of New York, Danaher said, one does not legally need to have a written lease for agreements less than a year in duration, but “[both landlords and students would be] crazy not to,” he said.

Many of the tenant-landlord disagreements he has seen over the years, he said, are because “people can’t communicate anymore” and he said are not clear on the terms of property rental, which they would be if they had agreed upon them in writing.

Danaher said that tenants should not be afraid to change the terms of the lease. “All terms are negotiable … Just cross out a section and change it if it’s different for your particular circumstance,” he said.

Community members were also able to ask Danaher about issues that are pertinent to Collegetown residents.

John Gutenberger, senior director in the University’s Office of Community Relations, said his office had received two calls from students about when a lease becomes legally binding.

The problem, he said, was that some students who are looking to rent houses and apartments in  Collegetown believed that, by signing a lease, they had signed a formal contract with a landlord. They were then surprised to have the landlord give the apartment to another group.

In response, Danaher said that the moment both parties — the landlord and the tenant — sign the contract, it is legally binding, regardless of the exchange of money.

Danaher also emphasized that the security deposit is always the tenant’s money, even when being held by the landlord. Throughout his talk, Danaher had the audience answer his call of “Whose money is the security deposit?” with “It’s the tenant’s!”

However, he reminded the students in the audience that tenants can still be sued if they do damage to the house property greater than their security deposit.

Danaher said that, for example, students who throw a party at the end of the school year and damage their house because they believe they “weren’t going to get that security deposit back anyway” could still be responsible for damages that the deposit did not cover.

This example brought knowing nods from audience members.

Another issue raised at the meeting was that of students being pressured to renew their leases earlier and earlier into their rental periods — in some cases, just a few weeks after they have moved in, according to Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd Ward).

Although Danaher said that the situation stems from “the law of supply and demand” and remained skeptical that a solution exists, McCollister raised the possibility of introducing city legislation to address the issue.

Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), the Common Council’s liaison to Ithaca’s Rental Housing Advisory Committee, echoed McCollister’s sentiments. He said that such a law could serve as a way to reduce the stress that students feel to sign leases increasingly earlier in the fall semester.

“There are measures we can take to reduce the pressure,” he said.

Original Author: Wesley Rogers