In New York, all residential leases signed or renewed on December 3, 2014 and thereafter must contain a “conspicuous notice in bold face type” stating whether there exists a “maintained and operative” fire safety sprinkler system in the leased premises. If there is such a system, the lease must state the “last date of maintenance and inspection”.
Although this law (Real Property Law Section 231-a) is well intended, it leaves certain unanswered questions and has several unintended consequences.
There is no penalty provision in the law. Therefore, the effect of noncompliance will not be known until a violation and lawsuit occur. The law was passed, in part, with lobbying pressure from those who have lost loved ones in fires. It is therefore expected that a violation and subsequent tragedy could result in penalties being influenced by public perception and political pressure.
There are no exemptions to the notice requirement. Although not stated in the law, it is assumed that subleases also are covered. However, a tenant who subleases an apartment that has a sprinkler system typically would have no access to the system’s maintenance or inspection history, and no way to demand it.
Another result that the legislature and Governor likely did not consider is the fact that cooperative leases are not exempt from this law. A cooperative lease is signed by the owner of shares of a cooperative when the owner purchases, and gives the owner the exclusive right to occupy the cooperative apartment. The typical by-laws of a cooperative require that all leases are identical in their provisions. Therefore, if all new cooperative leases must contain the required language, it is expected that all existing leases also must be rewritten to include that language, and re-signed by all parties.
These are only first impressions regarding this new law. It appears to have been poorly written, and not thought through. In any case, whether a relationship between a residential landlord and tenant is memorialized by a “lease” or a “rental agreement” or a document by any other name, it seems clear that it must include the language of the new law.
Joseph A. Bollhofer, Esq., is an attorney who practices law in the areas of real estate, elder law and Medicaid, estate and business planning and administration. He is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and of the Real Property, Elder Law and Surrogate’s Court Committees of the Suffolk County Bar Association and of the Real Property Law and Elder Law Sections of the New York State Bar Association. He has been serving area residents since 1985 and is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey. His office is located at 291 Lake Ave., St. James, NY. (584-0100). For reprints of this article and others concerning Real Estate law,Medicaid, Elder law and estate planning, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bollhoferlaw.com.