Eviction” refers to the court-ordered removal of a tenant from a rented property by a landlord. The process typically involves several legal steps, and there are strict requirements for both the landlord and the tenant involved. These requirements vary according to the jurisdiction in which the eviction takes place. However, in every eviction, the landlord needs a valid and specific reason to evict a tenant. 

Tenants may be evicted from a rental property for several reasons, including breach of contract, nonpayment of rent, property damage, and a tenant refusing to move once a lease has expired. Unlike residential tenants, commercial tenants do not have as many protections from landlord-tenant law. Additionally in New York, while the freedom of parties to contract is upheld, their statutes provide more protection to its commercial tenants than other states do.

In New York, a landlord must follow a specific eviction process, even if the tenant is a commercial tenant. This process begins with a demand for rent and a petition. Next, there must be a notice of the proceeding, and the service of the proceeding. 

From there, tenants may dispute the eviction, request more time, or request that the court stay the eviction. A commercial lease can be different in how the tenant pays their rent; otherwise, a commercial lease might be quite similar to a residential property lease.

Are there any Defenses under Commercial Tenant Law?

Although it is typical for residential tenants to have more eviction protection than commercial tenants, New York commercial tenant’s rights might be stronger because commercial tenants have more defenses as to why they did not pay their rent. These could include:

  • Untenantable and Unfit for Occupancy: A business may have reason to make a claim that the building is “untenantable and unfit for occupancy.” Untenantable refers to conditions which are unfit for the purposes for which they were leased. Unfit for occupancy refers to a space being unfit for human use because of things such as vermin infestation, unsanitary conditions, lack of ventilation, etc. They may do this under New York statute;
  • Landlord Interferes with Building Services: New York has made it a crime for a landlord to intentionally interrupt building services that are deemed “proper and customary” to the use of the building. An example of this is that a business may stop paying rent if it relies on a freight elevator, and that freight elevator is shut down;
  • Committing Waste: Committing waste happens when a party allows a building to deteriorate to the point of neglect and decay. The person possessing the property has a very specific duty to maintain the property in a manner that is not destructive to the future interest. In New York, neither the landlord nor the commercial tenant may commit waste. The landlord also has the duty to prevent the building from decaying into urban blight;
  • Failing to Provide Essential Services: Frequently, businesses will fail to specify in the lease all of the services they require to operate their business. An example of this would be a constant gas supply. If it is not mentioned in the lease, and the gas shuts off, the tenant should not plead constructive eviction, because then the tenant must move out (constructive eviction refers to the landlord doing something that has the effect of forcing the tenant out). The tenant should instead claim actual eviction. Even the lost use of a parking lot, or an entry door, may constitute actual eviction, and this would permit the business to stay in the property; or
  • Short Notice: Filing a civil lawsuit requires giving legal notice of the lawsuit to the other party. These notices inform the other party that they are being sued, as well as reasons why they are being sued. Further, it provides the other side with the legal basis upon which you filed the lawsuit. Then, the other party has a specific timeframe in which to respond, usually thirty days. New York business tenants have successfully defended eviction notices that were given on short notice. These notices were based on the developer’s schemes of a new development, such as a shopping center or residential condominium. Business are often eligible for rent abatement when the landlord begins construction around the businesses without any notice.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a New York Commercial Tenant Eviction Issue?

If you are a commercial tenant facing eviction in New York, or are a landlord needing to evict a commercial tenant,  an experienced New York real estate attorney will be an asset to your case. They can explain to you any defenses and options you may have, as well as determine if there is any legal basis to your claim. 

Additionally, they will represent you in court as necessary. If the landlord did not follow the specific eviction process, the tenant may dispute the eviction, request more time, or ask that the court stay the eviction.