In general, it is a good idea to have a written lease if you rent residential or commercial real estate in New York. However, the absence of a written lease does not simply allow a landlord to evict someone who is otherwise lawfully occupying the property. In most cases, if you pay rent to a landlord who accepts such payments, New York law presumes there is a “month-to-month” tenancy, requiring either party to give at least one month's notice (or 30 days in New York City) before terminating the arrangement. If a landlord terminates a month-to-month tenancy and the tenant fails to vacate the property within the one-month period, only then can eviction proceedings begin.
Craigslist Hookup Ends in Landlord-Tenant Dispute
The key concept here is that a court may determine there is a landlord-tenant relationship even if you do not believe one exists. Here is a recent example from a case pending before a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan. This case involves an ill-fated couple who met via Craigslist. The parties disagree as to the nature of their initial meeting. The plaintiff claimed she was answering an advertisement for a room rental. The defendant said he was seeking a “casual encounter” with a woman.
In any event, the plaintiff and defendant entered into some sort of relationship. At some point, the defendant gave the plaintiff a key to his apartment and allowed her to keep personal items there. The defendant traveled frequently, often for “weeks or months at a time,” and the plaintiff stayed at the apartment during these periods.
About three years into the relationship, the defendant learned the plaintiff was using his apartment to engage in illegal activities. The defendant subsequently had the locks changed and denied the plaintiff entry to retrieve her possessions. When she showed up at the apartment, the defendant called the police and alleged that the plaintiff threatened to assault him. The police arrested the plaintiff, and although she spent three days in jail, no criminal charges were ultimately filed. The plaintiff then sued the defendant for wrongful eviction and false arrest.
The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the “plaintiff was never a party to lease agreement” and therefore could not sue for wrongful eviction. Manhattan Supreme Court disagreed. The judge said that under New York City law, any person “who has lawfully occupied the dwelling unit for thirty consecutive days” is considered a tenant and cannot be evicted without due process. It does not matter if the plaintiff was ever a party to the defendant's lease. All the plaintiff needs to prove is that she occupied the apartment for 30 consecutive days and paid rent. As those facts remain disputed, the judge denied both sides' motions for summary judgment.
Need Help from a Real Estate Lawyer?Landlord-tenant disputes are just one legal problem that can arise when dealing with real property. If you need help understanding the law in this area from an experienced New York real estate attorney, contact the offices of Waldhauser & Nisar, LLP, today.