Michelle Itkowitz

Tenant Learning Platform

Hi, I’m Michelle Itkowitz, an instructor on the Tenant Learning Platform and Bushwick Daily’s Tenant’s Rights Advisor. This is the first article in a series that will bust some common myths contained in your apartment lease. As a New York City tenant, you have many rights. And no matter what your lease says, those rights cannot be taken away.

But how can you know which sections of your lease are binding and which are just…myths? This series will tackle your leasing issue one myth at a time. We’ll start with the section of your lease that says your apartment is for “living purposes only,” and what that means if you’d like to run a business in your apartment.

What Your Lease Says:

Leases seem to suggest that running a business is not permitted. Common lease clauses say things like, “…You shall use the Apartment for living purposes only.” Some leases say, “Home office use is permitted…provided that no employees or clients come to the apartment.”

But are you really prohibited from running your business in your apartment? And if you do run your business from your apartment: can you never have an employee come in to help you, or see a client, or customer? Bushwick is full of creators and office space is expensive. What should you do if you’re selling small batches of kombucha or hot sauce made in your living room? And what if you’ve converted your living room into a tarot reading center?

The Real Deal:

Under certain circumstances, those lease clauses are untrue. Let’s bust these lease myths!

The NYC Zoning Resolution allows you to have what is known as a “Home Occupation.” The trick is, figuring out what type of businesses and activities fit into the definition of permissible home occupation and which do not.

Your business use of your apartment has to remain secondary to the residential use of the apartment. In other words, your apartment has to be mainly for living in. Your business cannot occupy more than 25% of the apartment, and no more than 500 square feet. So, if you are running a company that makes biodegradable toothbrushes from your apartment, make sure you contain the business to only one-quarter of the apartment.

You can’t sell things that are not produced in the apartment. Nothing about your business can be visible from the outside of the apartment; you cannot put a sign up outside. Your business cannot create any disturbing noise, vibrations, or bad odors. These rules also apply to being a good neighbor.

You specifically cannot run these types of businesses from your apartment:

o   advertising or public relations agencies

o   barber shops

o   beauty parlors

o   commercial stables or kennels

o   depilatory, electrolysis or similar offices

o   interior decorator offices or workshops

o   real estate or insurance offices

o   stock broker offices

o   veterinary medicine

But these types of businesses get the green light:

o   fine arts studios

o   professional offices

o   teaching of not more than four pupils simultaneously, or, in the case of musical instruction, of not more than a single pupil at a time

So you can give three students knitting lessons, but only one student ukulele lessons, and not too loud! What gets tough is figuring out what is a “fine arts studio” or a “professional office,” for purposes of the law? For example, a court found that a commercial recording studio is not a valid home use.

But, if the business is permissible, you can have one employee show up to the business you run in your apartment every day. So don’t worry, you can have one paid employee for your business, that places vending machines in airports, stocked with the work of that city’s local artists (this business sounds awesome, someone please start it).

Want to learn more?

The Tenant Learning Platform delivers on-demand, online classes for NYC tenants on specific legal topics, to help tenants prevent and solve problems concerning their apartments. Its first three classes are: How to Do Airbnb Legally in Your New York City Apartment, The Laws About Painting Your NYC Apartment, and How To Protect Your Rent Stabilized Apartment from a Non-Primary Residence Claim. For a limited time, all Bushwick Daily readers will get free access to the Painting Your Apartment Class with the purchase of the Airbnb course. 

Upcoming classes will teach you How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in a No Pets Building and Best Strategies for Breaking Your Lease Early.

Michelle Itkowitz is a tenant lawyer and the founder of the Tenant Learning Platform, which delivers on-demand, online classes for NYC tenants on specific legal topics, to help tenants prevent and solve problems concerning their apartments, without a lawyer.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

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