I Accidentally Violated My Apartment Lease. Should I Tell the Landlord?


Q : My partner and myself have been living in Astoria Queens, in a rent stabilized apartment for the last two years. We intend to renew our lease. We already replaced the light fixtures, despite the fact that the lease prohibits it. We would also like to paint, but the same clause prohibits it. My landlord will refuse to renew the lease if these alterations are not approved. What should we do?

A: Rent-stabilized leases are heavily regulated, protected contracts with property rights. Steven Ben Gordon, Queens attorney who represents tenants, said that unless there is a serious violation, your lease will likely be renewed. It could be dangerous if you changed out the light fixtures yourself without consulting a licensed electrician. You should now hire an electrician to check the work done if you did not hire one to install the light fixtures. You should keep the evidence of the inspection. You will gain “tremendous credibility” by taking these steps, Mr. Gordon said. Ami Shah is a deputy director at Legal Services NYC. The nonprofit provides free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers. In that case, you could restore the old fixtures and see if the landlord will settle the claim, Ms. Shah said.

Painting comes with fewer potential consequences, though if you paint without permission simply because you want an aesthetic change, you could be in violation of the lease. The city’s Housing Maintenance Code mandates that landlords paint their properties every three years or more often if they notice the paint peeling or chipping. If the landlord finds the new paint on the wall and wants it removed, he can give you a 10-day notice to remedy the situation. In most cases, landlords don’t enforce minor lease violations because they are expensive and time-consuming. The landlord will not pursue minor lease violations if no one is bothered by them, Ms. Shah explained.