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What are the most common types of lease breaches?

Whether you are a New York landlord or tenant, your lease is the legal document by which you protect your property as a landlord or occupy the leased premises as a tenant. A strong written lease sets forth what each party will do – and not do – during the lease term and is your best recourse if and when something goes wrong or a dispute arises.

When one of you fails to do what (s)he promised to do, or does something the lease prohibits, such action or inaction breaches the lease. Whether or not the breach is material, i.e., significant, depends on its nature and what, if any, damages it causes the other party. If you commit a material breach as a tenant, your landlord may be able to evict you and keep your security deposit. If you commit a material breach as a landlord, your tenant may be able to break the lease, move out ahead of time, reclaim his or her security deposit, and possibly sue you.

While commercial leases can have their own problems, the most common residential lease breaches are the following:

  • Unauthorized pets
  • Long-term guests
  • Overzealous decorating

Unauthorized pets

Most residential leases have a provision regarding pets. Some do not allow them at all, others have restrictions as to the type, size and number of pets allowed, and still others have no restrictions per se, but require a pet deposit to cover any damage the pets do to the property.

If you as a tenant wish to buy or adopt a pet after moving into your leased home or apartment, check your lease and/or talk with your landlord before doing so. Even if you suffer an injury or develop a medical or psychological condition that requires you to have a service dog, do not simply acquire one without advising your landlord ahead of time.

Long-term guests

If you are a tenant, your name is on the lease. If you are married or have a roommate, his or her name also likely is on the lease. Any other adult staying in your home or apartment is your guest. Some guests, however, overstay their welcome, with or without your full approval. While a family member or friend can stay with you for a week or two without causing your landlord any problems, you should speak with him or her if your guest will stay longer.

Assuming your house or apartment has the adequate space, most landlords are amenable to another adult living there on a long-term basis, but often require that (s)he add his or her name to the lease. This protects not only your landlord, but also you from any lease violations that your long-term “guest” may commit.

Overzealous decorating

As a landlord, you want to protect your property from damage. As a tenant, you want to make your leased home or apartment “your own” by decorating it the way you want to. Both positions are perfectly reasonable and not necessarily in conflict with each other. Most leases, however, contain a provision that the tenant will return the property to the landlord at the end of the lease period in the same condition as existed when the tenant moved in, reasonable wear and tear excepted.

What this means to you as a tenant is that you likely cannot add “personal touches” such as the following without your landlord’s prior approval:

  • Repaint the walls
  • Put up your own light fixtures, ceiling fans, towel bars, coat hooks, etc.
  • Hang your artwork in a manner that damages the walls
  • Put in shelving that attaches to the wall

Living in a leased home or apartment should be a mutually rewarding experience for both the landlord and the tenant. Regardless of which you are, a little consideration, forethought and cooperation will go a long way toward maintaining a good relationship and avoiding conflicts.

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