New law makes it easier for tenants to sue landlords in small claims court

Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Office of the Governor

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a new law that gives tenants the power to sue their landlords in small claims court in the county, city, town or village where the rental property is located.

The new law eliminates the burden for tenants of having to file legal actions in the municipality where their landlord’s rental business is based, which can often be in another city, county or state.

“Expanding and solidifying tenant rights brings peace of mind to those who rent their homes. I am proud to sign these bills into law because every New Yorker deserves the dignity of a roof over their head,” Hochul said. 

The legislation (S.69/A.297) was sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Richard Gottfired, both Manhattan Democrats.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried

Gottfried said that small claims court can be an important resource for tenants to seek redress in disputes with a landlord without the expense and difficulty of going through an extended higher court process.  

For example, a landlord that doesn’t provide heat or repairs may be violating the lease and owe compensation.  But if the landlord’s office is in another county, until now, the tenant had not been able to sue in small claims court.  In New York, small claims courts hear cases involving amounts under $5,000 — or $10,000 in New York City. 

This law will let tenants sue in the county or city where the property is.

“Bad landlords beware: New York has taken another step to protect tenants,” said Hoylman on the day the bill was signed. We have eliminated an unfair burden in the law that made it difficult for tenants to bring landlords to court if the landlord lived in a different county than the tenant, or out-of-state. 

A common problem many young renters face is being taken advantage of by their landlords. With no luck in personally reaching her landlord, SUNY New Paltz student Samantha Landri confirmed that, “we can literally never reach heR. We once went three days without gas so our heat wouldn’t work. Our house ended up being like 35 degrees for three days straight. It was terrible. My dad ended up having to call her a bunch and it took her two days to get back to him.” 

With the inability to bring her landlord to small claims court because the rental office was in a different county, Landri and her housemates were mistreated and standards on their lease were not upheld.

“Honestly it doesn’t make any sense to me how someone could rent a home to a bunch of young college students and then never pick up the phone when we call her,” Landri said.