This page has been updated because of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

Common Defenses in a Landlord-Tenant Case

A defense is a reason why the petitioner should not win the case. You tell the Court your defenses when you Answer the Notice of Petition and Petition or when you ask the Court to Vacate a Default Judgment. You must then prove your defenses in Court. If you prove your defenses then the petitioner will lose and you will win the case.

Below are examples of defenses in a landlord-tenant case. Read the explanations carefully to see if any of them apply to you. Everyone’s case is different. Some of the defenses may apply to you and most may not. You can also tell the Court a defense that is not listed below. You can get more information from Tenant Questions & Answers: Nonpayment Eviction Cases in New York State and Tenant Questions & Answers: Holdover Eviction Cases in New York State


General Defenses

It is a defense if the landlord did not give you the written notices and the Notice of Petition and Petition the right way. This is bad service of papers. See How Legal Papers are Delivered and Common Examples of Bad Service. Tell the court. The Judge may make the landlord/owner start all over again.

The landlord/owner may have to give you notice before starting the case. If the landlord did not say anything or give you anything before starting the case, this may be a defense. Read Starting a Case to learn what Notices the landlord is supposed to give you.

Tell the Clerk or Judge if you are in the military or dependent on someone in the military. In some cases if you can’t pay the rent because you or someone you depend on is on active duty, you may be allowed to delay the case for 90 days.


Defenses to a Nonpayment Case

Use this defense when you have already paid all or part of the rent. If you pay the landlord the full amount of rent due at any time before the court date, the landlord must take the rent and the case is over.

The landlord has not made repairs, or services (heat, water, etc) do not work (called the warranty of habitability defense)
The warranty of habitability is the law that makes the landlord responsible for keeping your apartment and/or building in good condition at all times. Use this defense when your apartment or building has dangerous conditions or has services (such as water or heat) that don't work, or other problems that make it hard to live there. The landlord knew about the problems but did not repair them.

Monthly rent being requested is not the legal rent or the amount on the current lease
The landlord can only ask for the correct rent in the Petition. Use this defense if the landlord has charged you more than the legal rent (for example, more than the rent controlled or rent stabilized rent), or more than your lease says.

The landlord charged you too much money
If you have been paying the landlord too much rent, use this defense and get money off the amount you owe and get money back that you overpaid.

The landlord refused to take your rent
Use this defense if you tried to pay your rent but the landlord wouldn't take it. Refusals by landlords include taking your check or money order but not cashing it, hiding or avoiding you so you can't pay, and refusing to accept your money.

The landlord waited too long to bring this case (laches)
Use this defense if the landlord knows you owe rent but waits a long time to sue you. The court case surprises you, the delay hurts you, and the landlord did this on purpose. This is called laches.

The landlord is harassing you
If the landlord is trying to force you to move out by doing things to you, like, threatening you, or stopping your heat and hot water, or changing your locks, use this defense. Read more about Tenant Harassment.

For more possible defenses read Information on Answering a Notice of Petition and Petition for Nonpayment of Rent.


Defenses to a Holdover Case

Your defenses depend on the facts of your case. Here are some examples:

  • You didn’t do what the landlord/owner said you did.
  • It is not as bad as the landlord/owner said.
  • You fixed the problem when you got a Notice to Cure.
  • The Notice to Cure or the Notice of Termination does not contain enough details for you to understand what the landlord/owner is claiming.
  • The landlord/owner is harassing you by trying to force you to move out by doing things, like, threatening you, stopping your heat and hot water, or changing your locks. Read more about Tenant Harassment.
  • The landlord/owner started this case to retaliate because during the past year, you complained to the landlord/owner, the landlord’s agent or a government agency about conditions in the home.

For more possible defenses read Information on Answering a Notice of Petition and Petition in a Holdover Case.

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