Friday, September 30, 2011

Know your rights: Help with understanding NYC rent laws

EV Grieve reader EVFlip wrote the following article... Per EVFlip: "Recently, due to a change in my building's ownership, I've become more active in housing issues. I always thought I was the only one who didn't know about NYC rent laws, but as I speak with more and more neighbors, I find that very few people know their rights."

As Mayor Bloomburg pursues rebranding New York City as a "luxury item," paving the way for aggressive landlords to clean house, New Yorkers need to educate themselves regarding their rights. Many of us have a vague idea of our housing rights and the laws concerning rent stabilized apartments.
If your building has six or more units and was built before 1973, then probably your apartment is, or once was stabilized. If your apartment is not currently rent stabilized, then you still need to know about rent stabilization! Roughly, an estimated 20,000 apartments are destabilized each year. Many are destabilized illegally. The tenant has four years to catch an overcharge before it becomes permanent. Illegal overcharges consistently lead to the illegal destabilization of rent stabilized apartments.
Too many of us depend on the perceived trustworthiness of real-estate agents, managing agents, and landlords. Their job is to turn a profit, not to advocate for you.  Just because you are presented with a lease stating that your apartments rent is X, does not mean that X is the legal rent. There is no state or city agency that will catch this. It is your responsibility to find out. 

So what can you do? 
Get your rent history! It is a simple phone call, (718) 739-6400. You'll go through a short automated menu, and then you'll speak to an operator. Ask for your full rent history, back to 1984. The operator will ask for your name and address and that's it. In a few days, you'll receive your rent history in the mail. 
Some management companies specialize is prepping buildings for sale. One way to do this is preferred rents. A stabilized apartment for $1600/month may be offered to let at $1,200/month.  A great deal right? Aren't they nice! Except that this preferred rent may be recinded and then a tenant is left with not only the rent increase designated by the rent Guidelines Board (RGB), but the $400 difference. 

When a tenant in a rent stabilized unit moves out, the landlord is entitled to a 20% vacancy increase. It behooves any managing agent to have a high turnover on stabilized apartments. In one paricular building on East 4th street, HALF the apartment were stealthily destabilized.  Tenants were told it was a "stabilized building" and they never questioned the agents. When the building was sold to a real estate equity firm, unsuspecting tenants found themselves with doubled rents.
Get a copy of Tenants Rights' Guide. It can be downloaded or you can get a printed version at the Cooper Square Committee. To download a copy go here.

Where can you find help? 
If there is any question you might have about your lease, repairs, confrontations with your landlord/managing agent, or any housing issues there is help.
Cooper Square Committee (You can pick up a Tenants' Rights Guide here)
61 East 4th Street
(212) 228-8210
Metropolitan Council on Housing
339 Lafayette Street, #301
212-979-0611 (hotline Mon-Wed-Fri 1:30 to 5 p.m.)
University Settlement (Project Home)
184 Eldridge Street (at Rivington Street)
(212) 674-9120

Also, Henry Street Settlement, GOLES and Tenants and Neighbors too!

So, whether you are in a stabilized unit or not; get your rent history, be aware, and don't assume that your best interest is being looked is not.



Anonymous said...

Not sure why, in America, people feel they have "rights" to below market rents? Rent stabilization is absurd.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I had a stroke in 1998 and had to be taken out of my rent controlled on 13th St & 2nd-3rd Ave which I had for over 30 years. Was paying $160 a month for 4 rooms on the 4th floor, front apartment. Can imagine what the creepy landlord is charging now and saying what the old tenant was paying. As a old tenant I say, "Bullshit! Already I know he's lying!" Get the proof and stand up for your rights, you're paying way too much!

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Why can't Anonymous ever sign his names? Why is he, God? Anonymous, my fucking ass!

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...


Not sure why people like you think that having "no rights" in NYC market rate apartments is the American Way. From 2000 until the economy crashed in 2008, it was not uncommon for people in market rate apts in my building to get rent increases of 20-30% for lease renewals, if they even got lease renewals. Corporateer claims that the free market is the answer" to every freaking thing is absurd, tired, old and been proven wrong again and again.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great post, thanks for the information!

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Dont forget the Urban Justice Center!!! Provides direct legal service to NYers (you can get it for free), in addition to advocacy, community education, and political organizing.

Steph said...

Thank you so much for this link and thorough information. I live in a 100+ year old walk-up building in the East Village. I have had my apt for 3 years and just found out the vacant apartment on my floor will be going for an asking rent of $500+. This has made me become incredibly suspicious about my rent etc as I think the landlord is pushing to have a lot of 1 year rentals so they can raise the prices for the NYU/ college kids but I had no idea what to do about it. Thanks so much for this - I already called and will be getting info on my apartment sent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks EVflip – great post – hang in there and stay united as they are gonna try and pick you-off one by one.
Predatory equity companies and real estate developers have purchased or manage numerous buildings all over the EV. First they start by not renewing leases of long-standing tenants and some leave because they don't know their rights, then they start shutting-off the hot water or the heat to force others out, then they stop cleaning the building or making repairs, finally they accuse people of illegally sub-letting etc., Then if none of those things get enough people out they start with measly buy-out offers. Usually the equivalent of one year’s rent. As each long-time tenant is forced out they then rip the guts out of beautiful old tenement apartments and turn-them into soulless dormitory housing. Often converting one-bedrooms or even studios into two bedrooms. This construction often goes on for a year, sometimes without the proper permits and certainly without any concern for the people who are living in the building. The endless construction is what is often the last straw and people leave.
Then one day you wake-up, all your neighbors are gone, and you live in a dormitory with a new cast of the "real world" moving in every school year.
Know your rights, talk to your neighbors, form a tenants association, go to housing court and start an HP action. Don't let them drive you from your homes. Stay united, because "the people united can never be defeated."

Anonymous said...

"Know Your Rights" is good, but how about "Guns of Brixton"?
The money feels good
And your life you like it well
But surely your time will come
As in heaven, as in hell

EV Grieve said...

@anon 3:23

Oh, yeah. That's one of my favorites...Plus written and sung by Paul Simonon...

zrag said...

How timely, thanks for posting. I just received a letter last night, 9/29, from the new management company that bought the building I live in. The letter said they will not be renewing my lease, and I have to be out on 9/30. Its crazy. We always just used to get a new lease from the old management company and roll into a new lease. Now I'm scrambling to find an apartment. I figure I have a couple of weeks at least before the sheriff shows up forcing me out. But its slim pickings out there right now, and inflated prices. Its shitty

DHYS said...

Hey EVflip, do you live in a "magnum" building? The shaoul gang have been aggressively getting people out by the dozens on 4th street, 11th street and ave A.

They even got our beloved Bean out of East 3rd Street.

Karma will be a bitch....

Jill said...

One more great resource is The info on the site is outdated but the forums are current and by reading other people's postings you can learn a lot, as well as ask questions that get answered by people who know what they are talking about. Renters have rights, even renters who aren't stabilized.

There are a few things in life that can make or break you, and having a decent place to live is one of them. Being hungry is another. It's essential for a healthy economy that we have a diverse population, which means a variety of rents that a variety of people can afford without having to give up medication or food to pay for it.

We've tried to talk to new people in our building about this issue over the last few years, telling them that they are definitely overpaying, and giving them clear advice about what to do (such as what is written here) and not one of them cared. When your parents are paying, why bother.

There is a statute of limitations of some kind on how long an apartment can be on the market at an illegal rate and then turn into a legal rent, so if your apartment was renovated more than a few years ago it is probably too late. But if your apartment was recently renovated you are almost certainly paying too much.

Anonymous said...

No landlord can evict a tenant without serving papers and taking you to court, even if you don't have a formal lease. Court takes a few weeks to a month to even get a date. The judges rule for tenants in most cases. Don't be afraid of court. Lawyers for landlords prefer to settle before going before a judge. I've fought every landlord I've ever had in New York over the last ten years.

Chris Tremlett said...

Yeah right. Don't be afraid of the courts. Let your landlord drag you to court.