Thursday, June 7, 2018

I Am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant

East Village resident Susan Schiffman has been photographing the apartments of rent-stabilized tenants living in the East Village for her Instagram account, I Am a Rent Stabilized Tenant. She will share some of the photos here for this ongoing EVG feature.

Photos and text by Susan Schiffman

Tenant: Birdie, since 2013

Why did you come to the East Village?

The boy. He had been living here for years before me. When I met him I had been in a rocky relationship and we just clicked right away. He had a place. I had nowhere to go. We loved each other right off the bat, so I moved in.

How did you discover that your apartment is rent stabilized?

After being in the East Village for awhile my husband knows a lot of people who have been here their entire lives. He asked them if they had any experience with rent stabilization. They said he needed to contact GOLES and look into our rent history. You can get it for free. As soon as we did this, it was a window that opened to the world. We didn’t know we could get our rent history from the city. You can go back four years.

My husband lived upstairs for five years. I moved in with him ... the week we met. I lived with him for a couple of years upstairs, and now downstairs in this apartment for three. We stopped paying rent when we found out all of this information in November. They’ve let us ride out not paying rent because it’s moving that four-year period forward. His time upstairs isn’t going to count since each apartment is separate. We are paying twice as much as we should in this downstairs apartment and upstairs is a little bit less than double.

[The landlord is] trying to run us out. We sit in bed and talk about this all the time and try and figure out what their plan is. We have lawyer-ed up and nobody else did. [Other residents] have all taken the buyout. The first tier was $6,000. A lot of tenants left for $6,000. That was before we discovered that we were rent-stabilized. The second tier of the buyout was $10,000.

For months up until April it was just us in the back building, and then just the tenant across the hall from us. They offered him $15,000 because he stopped paying rent for a couple of months but he didn’t have a lawyer. He didn’t know that he was rent-stabilized. He took the buyout and is staying up the street, crashing with a friend.

You really have to do your research. We paid $2,500 in a retainer to a lawyer, which was really painful, but what we’re going to get in back rent — not a buyout — will be worth it. People need to know that if you don’t check your rent history you will never know if you are actually owed something.

There were only six tenants before us in our apartment since the 1980s and they were all paying $500. Then tenants were listed as living here but their rent was not listed and then it jumped to $1,550. The lawyer did the math. The landlord can only justify massive rent hikes if they put in $20,000 or more in renovations. And they must be able to provide receipts for all of the improvements that were made.

They have not done any of that.

We were never registered as rent-stabilized. None of the apartments in the front building or the back building were registered as rent-stabilized. There are eight apartments in this back building. We are the last ones here. Seven of the other apartments are empty and will be renovated.

The apartment across the hall from us is a mirror image of our apartment. When the tenant was living there he was paying $1,750. We were paying $1,550.

Renovations have begun in the empty apartments in the front building. One tenant was sitting in her living room and a drill came through the wall.

We won’t pay rent till we get the back rent check.

What do you love about your apartment?

I love that there is just enough room for me to paint and we can breathe and it’s still cozy. It’s a little difficult because it’s so tight but it’s made us really close in our marriage. We lost 45 square feet from our apartment upstairs to down here. Which doesn’t seem like a lot but when you’re in it it changes everything. We’re so right on top of each other. I love that we’re a lot closer than we would have been in a larger space and there is nowhere to run and hide. We have to communicate with one another and figure it out.

If you're interested in inviting Susan in to photograph your apartment for an upcoming post, then you may contact her via this email.


Anonymous said...

The type of information this person needs is available to anyone. The DCHR of NY has full guidelines available for the asking on rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments in printed form or on line. There is an MBR (maximum base rent) established for any apartment falling under rent regulated guidelines and this does go back four years. It is that MBR upon which any and all increases are based.
Taking buyouts of just a few thousand dollars is foolish because it barely covers your moving expenses to another place and the value that the landlord gains by taking back the apartment to renovate to either rent at market rates or sell is literally worth a hundred thousand dollars or more. Anyone giving up a rent regulated apartment should be having the landlord find them comparable living quarters (which is often approved by tenant/landlord courts) and pay for moving expenses....and perhaps a cash settlement on top of that for the disruption in your life. Tenants are all too often pushed or scared out of their apartments.
The people in this article need to more than "lawyered up" (sounds like you are a criminal), they need to be connected to the DCHR and local community groups who advocate for tenants rights.

Anonymous said...

No one in the East Village should be taking a buyout for less than $150,000 - unless you are already leaving town - you won't be able to live anywhere in the city if you take less.

Anonymous said...

Keep on the good fight, Birdie!

Anonymous said...

"Call the Rent Infoline at 718-739-6400. The rent history will be printed and mailed directly to the apartment/building address." From

This is so easy to do. Cooper Square Committee and GOLES are excellent resources too. If a fraction of the people in just the EV alone who live in "luxury rentals" in old buildings checked out their rental history and saw what the rents of their apartments used to be it would be front page news.

cmarrtyy said...


$150,000? More like $500,000 and it better be cash. Your apartment is worth a mint to a landlord who is selling the property or just bringing it up to market rate. HOLD OUT. THEY WILL PAY!

Brian said...

Having a lawyer is a good idea and beneficial in the long run. The DHCR (not DCHR) 718-739-6460.

Scuba Diva said...

The people in this article need to more than "lawyered up" (sounds like you are a criminal), they need to be connected to the DCHR and local community groups who advocate for tenants rights.

Like Met Council on Housing: this is a proactive tenant group that has been advocating for tenants for many years. They can also recommend tenant lawyers.

(Just a comment about getting "lawyered up:" any tenant who's stabilized and paying a rent they can afford might as well be a criminal, in the eyes of a landlord. You're affecting their ability to pay for the finer things in life, and therefore you might as well be stealing from them.)

karlo said...

You still have to pay taxes on the buyout (close to half) and if you find another place what you'll pay will never come close to what you were paying ever

Anonymous said...

yes $500,000 is more like real value, but that number is just shooting for the moon. Landlords who would pay that number would soon be out of business. You must consider that there is such a thing as overhead and profit. After all, real estate is a bu$ine$$ and you can't expect someone else to pay for your living quarters. But there are limits and there is workable compromise somewhere in every dispute. If you wait for the landlord to pay you more than $100K+ you may just be waiting a very very very long time during which you might end up with so much stress that you will decide to go. Of course, the landlords count on that. In the end, you have to stand up and ask for a helluva lot more than you could imagine and either stay the course or find that medium that makes you happy.