Can a tenant withhold rent in New York City?

A tenant can withhold paying rent only in certain situations. Under the Warranty of Habitability provision of New York State law, every New York tenant has the right to a “livable, safe and sanitary apartment.” To withhold rent, the housing must be unsafe or unsuitable for living. Examples include not having hot water or heat in the home, or the landlord failing to rid the apartment of a pest infestation.

Before withholding rent, tenants should take steps to have problems fixed. A tenant should notify the landlord of any issues, such as a leaky roof or a broken heater, as soon as they arise. If the landlord doesn’t respond, the tenant should send a certified letter detailing the issue and their attempts to have it remedied. If this fails as well, the tenant may begin withholding rent.

If a tenant withholds rent because the landlord allegedly breached the Warranty of Habitability, the landlord may respond by suing for non-payment. If this happens, the tenant can bring up as a defense that the landlord breached the Warranty of Habitability. The tenant also can explore other options in lieu of withholding rent, such as suing for a rent reduction, hiring someone to do the repair or doing it himself and deducting the cost from the rent. Notice should be given to the landlord before doing any of these actions.