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LANDLORDS, LEARN THE LAWS OF THE LAND BEFORE YOU LORD OVER TENANTS

Landlords who have "golden agers" as tenants should become acquainted with Section 227 (a) of the Real Property Law. Any person, upon reaching his or her 65th birthday may terminate any lease upon giving their landlord a 60-day notice, providing they are moving into a less expensive apartment in an apartment complex erected for the specific purpose of housing senior citizens. This section of the law cancels any lease that attempts to get around it.

In addition, Section 227 (2) (a) provides that if the tenant is moving to a residential health care facility whose primary purpose is to provide low or moderate income housing, the tenant need only have reached his or her 62nd birthday, and need only give the standard 30-day notice.

Landlords tempted to take control of a tenants personal property until the tenant pays their delinquent rent should become acquainted with Section 227 (c) of the same law. Assuming the lease has been lawfully terminated, no person may seize, hold, or detain personal effects, clothing, furniture, or any other property of the tenant to satisfy a rent claim accruing after the date the lease ends. To do so subjects the person to a criminal misdemeanor charge which can mean one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Landlords who do not give written receipts should become acquainted with Section 235-e of the Real Property Law. When rent is paid in cash, by money order, by cashiers check, or in any form other than a personal check of the actual tenant, a written receipt must be provided to the actual tenant.

That receipt must state, at a bare minimum, the date rent was paid, the amount paid, the period covered by the payment, and the apartment covered by the payment. The receipt must be signed by the person receiving the payment and, if not the actual owner, must state under what authority that person is collecting the money.

Landlords who collect security deposits from tenants should become acquainted with Article 7 of the General Obligation Law. If the apartment is covered by rent control, the landlord can only collect one month's rent, but in all other cases the amount of the security deposit is whatever the parties agree it will be.

The security deposit must be returned at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. The only deduction allowed is the reasonable cost of repair beyond normal wear and tear -- if the tenant himself damaged the property -- and any unpaid rent.

Regardless of the number of units in the building or complex, the security deposit must be treated as trust funds belonging to the tenant and cannot be mingled with the landlords other money.

If there are six or more units involved, the money must be put in an interest bearing account.

If there are less than six units in the building or complex it can be put in a non-interest bearing account.

However, in either case, if it is put in an interest bearing account, the landlord can only keep one percent annually to defray his administrative expenses. All other interest belongs to the tenant who must be given the option to have it paid to them annually, applied to the rent, or paid in full at the end of the lease.

Tenants who are required to pay their own utilities should acquaint themselves with Section 17-103 of the Energy Law. Before entering into a lease the tenant is entitled to receive -- free of charge -- a list of what those bills have been the last two years.

Moreover, if the landlord is supposed to pay the bill but doesn't, the utility company must give notice to the tenant allowing the tenant to pay the current bill directly to the utility company. Any amounts so paid are then deducted from the rent.

Similar provisions in the Multiple Dwelling Law give the same result when the apartment is oil heated, i.e. the tenant can pay for oil deliveries and deduct amounts actually paid from the rent.

Finally, landlords tempted to "lord it" over tenants should become acquainted with Section 235-c of the Real Property Law. It applies only to residential leases and takes cognizance of the fact the average renter has no meaningful opportunity to reject the lease provisions. The law allows courts to refuse to enforce any provisions in a lease found to be unreasonably favorable to the landlord.

As in all things involving real estate, do not rely upon oral promises. Make sure everything you want is in writing. Consult your lawyer before you sign anything.

Franklin Pack, senior partner of Pack, Hartman, Ball & Huckabone, P.C., is a real estate practitioner, lecturer and columnist.

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