Sprinkler System Notices Now Required in all Residential Leases

Land Use

A recent amendment to the New York State Real Property Law (the “RPL”) took effect on December 3, 2014, requiring all residential leases to include a notice to the tenant as to the existence or non-existence of a maintained and operative sprinkler system in the leased premises.  The law is codified as § 231-a of the RPL and is titled “Sprinkler system notice in residential leases.”  While the law defines the term “sprinkler system”, it does not define the terms “premises” or what constitutes a “lease”.  The law is effective throughout the entire state of New York and it does not provide any exceptions for premises that are regulated or controlled by the government.

Section 1 of the new law states, “Every residential lease shall provide conspicuous notice in bold face type as to the existence or nonexistence of maintained and operative sprinkler system in the leased premises.”  All the law specifies is that the notification must be in bold print; it does not state what the precise notification language should be.

The amendment is ambiguous as to the definition of a lease.  Most lease agreements call themselves “leases” but there are other landlord-tenant designations that may also be effected in unanticipated ways.

One issue raised in a recent New York Law Journal article by attorneys Adam Leitman Bailey, Esq. & Dov Treiman, Esq., is how does this law affect proprietary leases for a cooperative corporation development? The by-laws of most cooperatives require that the corporation’s proprietary leases be identical to one another.  While residents of a cooperative are shareholders of the cooperative corporation, they are also tenants in a conventional landlord-tenant relationship.  Because the new law requires that all “leases” entered into on or after December 3, 2014, include the sprinkler notification language, in order to ensure all proprietary leases remain identical, any leases entered into prior to that date would need to be amended to include the statutorily required notice.  Furthermore, since the law states that the notification must be in bold face type, it will not be enough for the board of directors to pass a resolution stating that all leases are “deemed” amended to include the required language; all of the leases will have to be re-issued with the bold-faced notification language and executed by each individual “tenant” of the cooperative.

Another question is whether an agreement that calls itself a “license” would fall under the law. Agreements that call themselves “licenses” are difficult to draft and often contain provisions that mirror those in a lease agreement.

Furthermore, this law may also have an unintended effect on tenants wishing to sub-let their residences.  Section 3 of the law states that if the leased premises contains a maintained and operative sprinkler system then “the residential lease agreement shall provide further notice as to the last date of maintenance and inspection.” It is highly unlikely that a tenant would have access to the maintenance and inspection history of the sprinkler systems servicing their residences.  This new law may provide Landlord’s with the ability to deny a potential sublease agreement for failing to include this information.

Another question raised by this amendment is how will it be enforced, and what will the punishment be for violating it?  Will leases without the required statutory language be deemed invalid and unenforceable? Will insurance companies attempt to deny coverage to those living under lease agreements for failure to include the sprinkler system notification?

This bill was passed by the New York State legislature as a reaction to the tragic deaths of three Marist College students who died in an off-campus house fire.  The memorandum in support of the bill states that, according to the Fire Sprinkler Initiative, the availability of smoke detectors, coupled with a maintained and operative sprinkler system installed in a residence decreases the risk of drying in a fire by over 80%.  The reason for the sprinkler system notification is to help prospective tenant’s make an informed decision about where they choose to live.  While the intentions of this law are worthy, this commentary highlights several of the potential unintended consequences of the law.  Hopefully the legislature will correct these issues through future amendments of the law.

 

Full Statutory Provision

RPL § 231-a. Sprinkler system notice in residential leases:

1. Every residential lease shall provide conspicuous notice in bold face type as to the existence or non-existence of a maintained and operative sprinkler system in the leased premises.

2. For purposes of this section, “sprinkler system” shall have the same meaning as defined in section one hundred fifty-five-a of the executive law.

3. If there is a maintained and operative sprinkler system in the leased premises, the residential lease agreement shall provide further notice as to the last date of maintenance and inspection.

 

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