Renting In NYC: Tips For Protecting Your Security Deposit

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Renting is the way for the majority of New Yorkers. Whether you prefer the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, the culture of Brooklyn, the diversity of the Bronx or the homey charm of Staten Island, it’s easy to get caught up in the freedom and low maintenance lifestyle of renting.

While your landlord is responsible for keeping your place “habitable” by making repairs when something malfunctions like leaky roofs, broken heaters, backed-up plumbing, and other hazardous conditions. As a tenant, you are expected to keep your space clean, in good repair (don’t break anything) and return the property to its pre-lease condition when vacating. Sadly, according to Rent.com only about one in four renters receives a refund of their security deposit when moving out.

Renter’s Right for Livability

To help safeguard your security deposit and protect yourself from being blamed for everything that goes wrong in the apartment, do a clean sweep of the place every few months. If you see something has broken as a result of an accident or negligence by you, your guests, your child, or your pet, it’s up to you to take care of it. For example, if your kitchen sink clogs from improperly disposing of cooking grease in the drain, the cost to have it repaired will probably be on you.

But you are generally not responsible (check your lease to be certain) for repairing or replacing appliances or structures that fail as a result of normal use or everyday wear and tear. The best way to sidestep squabbles with your landlord over damages is to document the condition of your apartment, when you move in, notify your landlord in writing when something does go wrong and keep records of any conversations regarding repairs whether it be emails, texts or notes of phone conversations.

An ounce of prevention goes a long way. Here are some of the most common rental maintenance issues overlooked by tenants:

Stay Vigilant for Leaks and Mold

Look for leaks and investigate musty odors for signs of mold. While it is the tenant’s responsibility to maintain a clean household free of small amounts of mold, it is up to the landlord to remediate and repair the cause of persistent mold growth. The most common causes of mold in NYC buildings include leaks from other apartments from broken pipes or water overflows, clogged PTAC heating-and-cooling units, and broken washing machine hoses. There is often a grey area of fault involved with water damage. If you wait too long to report the problem, you could be held responsible. So when it comes to leaks and water damage, protect yourself by being the squeaky wheel. Click here for more info on mold from the The New York City Department of Health.

Report the Pests

Look for signs of pests. When bugs and other pests like roaches, mice, and rats make their way into rental properties, it can become a huge source of conflict between tenants and landlords. Residential tenants in New York are protected by the warranty of habitability. As part of the lease agreement, landlords promise that occupants will not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety and this includes rodents and bug infestation. Put your landlord on notice (in writing) of pest sightings. Do your part to eliminate any invitation for infestation by:

  • Managing your garbage. Keep garbage in sealed bags or containers and remove garbage from home every day.
  • Pest-proofing your food. Avoid leaving food uncovered on counters and store tightly sealed containers or in the refrigerator.
  • Following the crumbs. Wipe down hard surfaces and sweep or vacuum food from floor daily.
  • Reporting problems. Report pests and conditions that attract pests such as leaks and holes to building management right away.

For more information, visit the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Advocate your Appliances

Take a good look at your appliances. Dishwashers, washing machines, and hot water heaters can develop small leaks that go unnoticed, so check them now to prevent a water disaster later. If an appliance provided by your landlord breaks or stops working, it is your landlord’s responsibility to repair or replace that appliance (unless otherwise stated in your lease). To avoid being held responsible for the failure of the appliance, inform your landlord in writing that is broken. Explain in your letter that if the appliance cannot be repaired, you request a replacement of an equivalent, used appliance that is in good working order. If the landlord fails to repair or replace the appliance and sues you in court for the cost of the appliance, you will need to prove that you took the necessary steps. For example, you reported the oven was not working. And despite repeated attempts to get help from your landlord, you went for two months without an oven…

Keep the Electricity Going

A working electrical system is required as a condition of habitability regarding landlord responsibilities. If an electrical outlet or fixture stops working, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to seek out the problem and arrange for repairs to be made. Common electric problems include dead outlets, faulty light fixtures or nonworking light switches. More serious electrical problems might include sparks at the electrical outlet, heat around the outlets or switches, flickering lights, circuit breaker trips and frequent light bulbs burn out. You as a renter must contact the landlord or property manager about hazardous electrical problems. Put all request in writing and always save a copy. Statutes give the landlord a reasonable time to respond—as much as 30 days. However, when a hazard exists, the time could be shorter—perhaps only a day or two, depending on the nature of the problem.

Get the Smoke Out

According to the ABCs of Housing, landlords are required to install at least one carbon monoxide and smoke detector in every apartment in their building, but tenants must make sure they’re still operational and replace the batteries as needed.

Make the Move

When it comes time to make the move, play it smart. You paid dearly when you moved into your place. You cared and cleaned as if it were your own. Don’t risk the return of your security deposit on half-ditch cleaning effort. Once the furniture is cleared and the boxes loaded, fix a drink and let your trusted move-out cleaning pros handle the rest. They’ll prepare the property for inspection by cleaning the inside of kitchen cabinets & appliances, thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms, and detailed cleaning of fixtures, window sills, closets, floors and more. Even if you were never a boy scout, leaving a place “better than you found it” is an admirable thing to do and significantly increases your chances of getting your security deposit back.

Need a hand keeping up with your NYC condo, co-op or apartment? NY Brite provides professional cleaning and maid services throughout NYC, including in Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Long Island City and Astoria. Trusted by some of the city’s most demanding clientele, NY Brite’s licensed and professionally trained cleaners have served the commercial and residential cleaning needs of New Yorkers for over 28 years. Call 1-800-682-7483 or click here to request a free cleaning estimate, you’ll be so glad you did.

For more information on tenant’s rights in New York City visit: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/renters/.