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Learn about rent demands

Authored By: LawHelpNY, Legal Services NYC

About Rent Demands

I did not pay rent last month (or for several months). Am I going to be evicted right away? +

Failure to pay rent can lead to a “non-payment case” being started in Housing Court. This is a court case started by a landlord/owner to collect unpaid rent, and if the rent is not paid, to evict the tenant. Simply failing to pay rent does not start this proceeding, and it does not mean you will be evicted. In New York, if you are a tenant, you cannot be evicted without a housing court eviction proceeding (your landlord takes you to court, a judge orders an eviction, and a marshal carries out an eviction). That is, the landlord must go to court and get permission to evict you. If your landlord evicts you without the housing court eviction process, it is an unlawful eviction. You can learn more about illegal evictions here.


Even if you owe rent, if you want to continue to stay in your apartment, don’t just leave, come up with plans to pay the back rent, and wait to have your day in court. You may have good defense or you may be able to get help with the back rent. For example, if you are withholding rent because your apartment needs necessary repairs (e.g. heat, water), this can be a defense in your non-payment case. You can read about common defenses in landlord-tenant cases here:


When am I considered a tenant with rights?

In New York City, you are a tenant if the following applies:

  • If you have a written agreement (lease) permitting you to live in the apartment, even if that lease has expired.
  • If your landlord ever accepted rent from you. (For roommates, family members, and guests: if the prime tenant of the apartment ever accepted rent from you.)
  • If you have lived in the apartment for 30 days or longer, even if no rent was ever paid and there is no lease.

I think I received a “Rent Demand” from my landlord – what should I do? +

What is a “Rent Demand”?

If you have failed to pay rent, the first step that the landlord must do before they can start a nonpayment case in Housing Court is to ask you to pay the rent you owe. This is called a “rent demand”. The landlord must demand that the tenant pay the rent owed, and give the tenant no less than three (3) days to pay the rent that is overdue.


It must also warn the tenant that if the rent is not paid, the tenant can be taken to court. Sometimes landlords don’t mention that the tenant will be sued in Housing Court if they don’t pay, so some people wrongly think they are being evicted when they receive the rent demand. 


A Rent Demand is just the first step the landlord needs to take before filing a Non-Payment Petition. The tenant can’t be evicted legally until a judge decides in the landlord’s favor in Housing Court. The Rent Demand can be made by the landlord or owner or someone working for the landlord or owner. A rent demand may be made in writing, over the telephone or in person. But, if your lease states that the demand must be made in writing, then it must be in writing. There is certain information that must be included on a written rent demand.


For example, it must be specific about which months have not been paid and the amounts due (for example, “You owe rent for March, April and May at $740 per month). It must also be “served” on you. “Service” is a special way that legal papers must be delivered, and can include delivery to you in person or to someone responsible who lives or works in your apartment. This is important because if the rent demand you receive does not meet these requirements, it may be an “improper rent demand”. You can learn more about this here:


Important! If you think you have an improper rent demand, you will still need to go to Housing Court. When you go to Court, you should tell the judge or court attorney that you were not served properly. If the Judge says that the landlord or owner did not make a proper rent demand before starting the nonpayment case, the case will be dismissed “without prejudice”. This means that the landlord or owner made a mistake, and the case ends. However, it does not mean that you will not have to pay any rent that you owe, as the landlord can start the nonpayment case against you again.


What happens if I don’t comply with the “Rent Demand”?

Remember, the demand for rent is not a court paper and is not an eviction case. However, if you do not pay the rent after the demand for rent is made, the landlord or owner can sue you in Housing Court to collect the unpaid rent. 


If the landlord has started a case against you in Housing Court, the court will send you a document called a “petition” and a “notice of petition”. Also, the Court Clerk will mail you a postcard telling you to promptly come to court. You can see samples of these documents, here and here. DO NOT IGNORE THESE PAPERS. If you disagree with the landlord because you have paid rent, or because you have withheld rent because you are waiting for repairs, these can be “defenses” which you can tell the Court. If you ignore the papers, the landlord can get a default judgment against you—even if you didn’t know you had a court case. A default judgment is a court decision in favor of one side when the other side does not answer or go to court on the court date. It can lead to consequences like your wages being garnished (the amount you owe is taken from your wages by Court order), or even eviction. 

A default judgment is a court decision in favor of one side when the other side does not answer or go to court on the court date. It can lead to the court ordering an eviction and money judgment, even without your input and knowledge.


Important! If you do not receive the papers but have reason to believe that a case has begun against you then you should go to your local Housing Court and check. You can check with the Clerk’s office to find out if a case has been started against you or whether there is a default judgment against you and take steps to either Answer the case or get an order to Show Cause to Vacate (remove) the A default judgment is a court decision in favor of one side when the other side does not answer or go to court on the court date. It can lead to the court ordering an eviction and money judgment, even without your input and knowledge. default. You can also check your case status online:

I can’t pay my back rent. Is there any help to prevent eviction? +

There are some options available to help you if you can’t pay your back rent. The two most common in New York City are “One Shot Deals” and the “Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy”, which we discuss below.

There are options available if you are homeless, or facing homelessness. Visit LawHelpNY’s Housing section to learn more:


One Shot Deals 

A “one shot deal” is one-time payment to help pay back rent to avoid eviction. It is not a requirement that you have a Housing Court case to apply for a one shot deal and you can apply with a letter of demand from the landlord.

  • Where to apply: You can apply for a one shot deal at your local HRA Job Center and there are HRA offices in some Housing Courts. You can call 311 to find the closest center near you.
  • More Information: You can call HRA’s information line at (718) 557 1399, or you can read more about One Shot Deals here


Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS)

FEPS offers housing subsidy and arrears grant (up to $7,000) for families with children on Public Assistance. Applicant families must be facing eviction due to nonpayment or have been evicted for owing arrears in the past year.

  • Where to apply: You must be referred to FEPS through one of the following organizations: BronxWorks, CAMBA, Catholic Charities, NMIC, Queens Community House, Legal Aid Society, and Legal Services of NYC.
  • More Information: You can learn basic facts about the FEPS Program including eligibility and how to apply here:


Assistance from Charities

There are some charities that provide limited assistance with back rent. If you have a case in Housing Court and a good reason for falling behind on your rent (for example, loss of job), you can call the Housing Court Answers Hotline, who will help you get referrals. You must be able to pay your rent going forward, as assistance from charities will only help with back rent. The hotline provides telephone assistance from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday through Thursday.

For more information:

Queens: 718-657-0599

Other boroughs: 212-962-4795

I can’t afford to pay the rent going forward. Is there any help for me? +

If you are having difficulty paying your rent going forward, there are some programs that might be able to help. For example, Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption programs might be able to help seniors and people with disabilities freeze rent increases. Both of these programs are administered by the New York City Department of Finance. There are also some housing subsidies available to prevent eviction and for affordable housing. For an overview of Affordable Housing options, click here:


For more information visit or call the Legal Services NYC Legal Assistance Hotline, Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm, 917-661-4500

This resource is part of a collection of resources about non-payment proceedings in NYC Housing Court:


Last Review and Update: Jul 14, 2016

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