A recent article in the New York Post reports on the tragic story of a New York City landlord who claimed he was “under pressure” and had “a lot of issues” with his tenants, namely, that they were late paying rent. Unfortunately, the landlord responded to the situation by murdering his tenants, for which he has now been arrested and is in police custody.
Obviously, this is the wrong way for a landlord to handle tenants who have not paid their rent. What should the landlord have done instead? This blog post will discuss the proper manner in which non-paying tenants should be dealt.
Almost all tenants are required to pay rent when leasing property, such as an apartment or a house. To simplify, we will discuss residential, rather than commercial tenants, in this post.
Residential tenants usually have a written lease that delineates the lease term, as well as the amount of rent required to be paid on a monthly basis. Most leases call for rent to be paid on the first of the month, but experienced counsel should review the lease to see when rent is actually due. A tenant may also be under an expired lease, or no lease at all. In those cases, there would be a verbal agreement about how much rent the tenant is required to pay per month.
Let’s now assume that the tenant has failed to pay his monthly rent. Under New York law, before the case can be started, the landlord or someone on behalf of the landlord must demand the overdue rent from the tenant and warn the tenant that if the rent is not paid, the tenant can be evicted. The demand must be in writing and must be delivered to the tenant at least fourteen days before the court case is started. In addition, the demand must clearly state the amount of rent which is unpaid, itemized by month. For example, if the rent is $2,000.00 per month, and it is two months overdue, the notice should state: rent past due for October, 2023: $2,000.00; November, 2023: $2,000.00; total due: $4,000.00. Service of the notice is governed under New York law, however, the lease should also be reviewed to determine whether it contains a provision that states how notices should be sent. For example, a lease may require service of notices by certified mail, overnight delivery (such as Federal Express), or simply regular mail.
Once the written notice has been sent, if the tenant still fails to pay the rent due, then an action should be brought in the proper Court. This is determined by the location of the property in question. In the five boroughs of New York City, there are Civil Courts for each borough, each of which has landlord-tenant parts. In the suburbs, such as Westchester County, there are local courts which handle eviction matters, as well as City Courts for cities in New York State but outside New York City, such as Yonkers City Court or White Plains City Court.
Landlord-tenant attorneys will ensure that the eviction petition (the document issued after the fourteen day notice) contains the proper language and is served on the tenant pursuant to New York law. The Court will usually assign a return date for the first Court appearance, and the case will be heard at that point. Once in Court, the parties can discuss a potential resolution to the non-payment case, such as a payment plan, or having the tenant vacate the premises on an agreed-upon date.
Although landlords can be frustrated by non-paying tenants, the solution should be to use the legal system to ensure that their legal rights are protected, and not to take matters into their own hands.