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NYC Student Tenant Rights

A guide for NYC-based college students navigating the wide world of housing law, from dorms to sub-leases, bad landlords to worse roommates.

Why Pick a Dorm?

The majority of colleges and universities in NYC offer guaranteed housing to all first-year and transfer students who submit their housing applications and deposits by the specified deadline. Be sure to check when your school's deadline is! And just a note: housing applications are separate from the admissions applications. 

Here is a list of all the colleges & universities in NY State that offer housing: Directory of On New York On-Campus Housing Colleges (2018)

Living in campus housing can offer many benefits, including:

  • Proximity to academic buildings
  • Supportive environments with RAs and peers
  • Amenities are included in costs, such as Internet, electricity, water, heat, and laundry
  • Security measures, including staff
  • Semester- or Academic Year-long housing agreements (so you don't have to bother with a year-long lease if you plan to spend breaks elsewhere)
  • Basic room furnishings and common spaces are provided - no need to visit IKEA!

Additionally, students who require special accommodations due to medical need can be well supported through on-campus housing options. They can complete a Medical Accommodations Application Process, which is readily available through the Office for Disability Services of their school.

Many schools offer Themed Housing, as well, so you can apply to live on a floor or in a building with other students with similar interests, majors, or hobbies. These options are a great way to make friends and build a community in the city! 

Dorm Rights

When living in a dorm, it's important to understand your rights and the expectations of this specific housing option.

Colleges and Universities differ in how they accommodate student housing rights. You're encouraged to familiarize yourself with your institution's Residential Life Handbook, which is readily available on the institution's website.

Pay close attention to the Administrative Policies and Residential Student Conduct Policies in particular. 


The first important right to know about is the Implied Warranty of HabitabilityThis is implied in all rental housing, whether it's an apartment or dorm room. This warranty guarantees that the tenant's dorm room or housing unit:

  • Has hot and cold running water
  • Has heat and properly protects inhabitants from the elements
  • Is not infested with rodents or bugs
  • Has proper locks on all doors and windows

University housing departments have systems in place for reporting problems with your dorm room, which can be found on your school's website. More information about the Implied Warranty of Habitability and legal action can be found at NYCBar.Org as well as in the General Legal Resources tab in this LibGuide. 


dorm cartoon

Image from CampusBasement.com

Dorms are the property of the university, which essentially acts as the landlord. However, the relationship between the landlord (college) and the tenant (student) is unique because there is no lease agreement, but instead a license. The room, utilities, and associated services are being borrowed by the student for the duration of the established semester or academic year. 

‚ÄčThis type of agreement comes with certain strings attached and generally fewer rights for the student than a typical landlord/tenant agreement. For instance, students can be subject to searches without cause and guest policies, all at the discretion of the academic institution that owns and manages the dorms.

Privacy Rights in Dorms

College students living in university housing have less robust privacy rights than tenants in regular landlord/tenant agreements. Unlike a landlord, the college is not required to give notice prior to entering a student's living space or indicate a specific reason for doing so. The amount of privacy allotted to students depends on the specific college's housing policies. 

Guest Policies in Dorms

Due to the legal conditions of dorm living, being a guest in University residence halls is considered a privilege, and not a right. Guests are generally required to present valid photo identification upon entrance, and may be subject to rules regarding length of stay. ‚ÄčLike privacy rights, each college or university has their own policies - it's important to understand your institution's rules! 

Something is Wrong!

As with any housing option, things can go wrong and be challenging! Issues with roommates, hall mates, and facilities are common and your school offers support during your time in their housing. 

In dorm living, there are clear and established guidelines for support, outlined by the academic institution.

dorm cartoon

Image from Flavorwire.com


Any issue regarding dorm living should be first addressed with the Residence Hall Advisor. Also called a house fellowresidence assistantcommunity assistant, peer advisor, or senior resident, the RA is a fellow student who is employed and trained by the academic institution to provide support, structure, and programming to a set of dorm residents. 

The RA should become a familiar initial resource for institutional questions, though they are also responsible for communicating and enforcing residence policies. Additionally, they maintain dorm records and room assignments, and can submit requests for repairs and maintenance for the building and furnishings. 

RA meme

If a problem or question arises, you should first address it with your RA. They can help you problem solve and refer you to additional resources.

If the problem isn't tackled here, then the RA can help you discuss the issue with the following positions:

  1. Residence Hall Director
  2. Associate Director of Housing
  3. Director of Housing

This hierarchy exists to address student needs and issues as they arise.


Note on sources:

- Information for this page was compiled from various college and university websites, specifically the Residential Life and Policies pages of: City College of New York, Columbia University, Fordham University, Long Island University, New York University, Pace University, Pratt Institute, St. John's University, and The New School, which make up the largest undergraduate student communities in New York City.