Change in Law Imposes New Requirements for Residential Leases in New York

November 2014

An amendment to New York State’s Real Property Law, effective December 3, 2014, imposes new requirements for all residential leases, whether currently in existence or which take effect thereafter.  The amendment adds a new section, Section 231-a, which imposes the following requirements.

First, all leases for residential premises must include a disclosure statement regarding the existence (or not) of an automatic fire suppression sprinkler system covering the “leased premises,” common area or both.  Second, the disclosure statement must be “conspicuous notice in bold face type.”  Third, the notice must include the most recent date of maintenance and inspection.   

Section 231-a may present some unusual problems.  For instance, the requirement is imposed in “every residential lease” so it is not limited to owners of residential property.  By way of example, even a tenant who is subletting the “leased premises” will be bound by the law.  Moreover, New York law does not necessarily require that a lease for residential property be in writing, yet Section 231-a requires that the statement regarding sprinkler disclosure be “conspicuous notice in bold face type.” 

In addition, the law does not specify a penalty for its violation.  Does the failure to include the disclosure render the lease void and unenforceable?  Is the lease unenforceable by the owner or landlord only?  Can the tenant simply refuse to pay rent?  Can the tenant walk away without consequence?  What if the tenant refuses to sign?  Does the tenant’s refusal to sign mean there is no enforceable lease?  

Also, what about an existing residential lease?  Must the lease be amended or is a separate letter “deemed incorporated into” the lease? 

Further, Section 231-a does not distinguish between single family and multi-family housing, so it presumably applies to single family housing and is not restricted to apartment buildings, co-ops or condominiums. 

Finally, the law does not define the crucial terms “lease” or “residential property.”  It is unclear how Section 231-a would apply where a family member acquires housing for another family member, e.g. where a parent purchases a co-op or condominium unit for a child or vice versa.  Such an arrangement could be construed as a “lease” or a “license” and the risk of failure to comply with Section 231-a would be on the property owner. 

For further information, please contact James W. Glatthaar of Bleakley Platt’s Real Estate Practice Group at jwglatthaar@bpslaw.com or (914) 287-6159.