Since rent protections first came into existence (in the 1920s, well before World War II), it has never been more crucial to fight against threats to your tenancy rights; now more than ever, the availability of rent-regulated apartments is shrinking – they're threatened with extinction.
Tenants' rights are at a low ebb as landlords manipulate rent laws to erode protections. McAdams Law fights the disturbing trend of landlords victimizing tenants to maximize incomes. The powerful market forces of skyrocketing rents and astounding property prices fuel landlord greed. Even during this slow-motion economic recovery, the alarming rate of landlords evicting tenants from regulated tenancies for financial advantage continues.
In so many ways, Housing Court has always been stacked in favor of landlords where proceedings are subject to a much faster "resolution process" than one finds in other courts, and being sued in Housing Court puts tenants onto the nationwide "blacklist" which makes it harder to find new landlords to rent to them. Often tenants get steamrolled because landlords have deeper pockets and the strongest political influence. With a few setbacks, continuous lobbying efforts weakened rent laws, threatening to eliminate them altogether.
Following is a collection of strategies to help you win in court, advise what to do if you lose, and suggest ways to stay out of court altogether. But it is notintended to be legal advice for specific situations or to replace the services of a competent Tenants' attorney. The smartest and safest thing you can do is hire a lawyer with success practicing in Landlord Tenant law. These are a general series of principles to keep in mind so you can have a more productive discussion with your attorney, and understand your case more clearly.
For protection build a wall around yourself to the greatest extent possible. This is easiest and most effective with the help of the right lawyer. With that in mind, read on to learn about how to guard yourself against the many traps and pitfalls tenants face with problem-landlords.
If You Live In A Rent-Regulated Apartment, You Are At War
You may not realize it, but you are. Your landlord wants you out, and has major financial incentives to remove you. Under rent stabilization, if you vacate your apartment, the landlord will get a 20% increase on a two-year lease for a new tenant, often with an additional "longevity" increase. Special formulas determine increases for a one-year lease and vary, but these rent increases alone give landlords a lot more profit from evicting you rather than renewing your lease.
And when a rent stabilized tenant leaves and the landlord gets a vacancy, of the costs of any "individual apartment improvements" ("IAI") landlords install in the unit, they can add another 2.5% per month to the rent in buildings with 35 units or fewer (or one-sixtieth of improvement expenditures in larger properties). If the new rent in a vacant unit exceeds $2,700 a month, after adding in rent increases for vacancy and improvements, the landlord can escape the rent regulation for the apartment, and rent it at free market rates. Similarly, if your rent is over $2,700 right now and your household income exceeds $200,000 for two years in a row, you may be at risk of losing your rent-stabilized rights.
If your landlord intends to convert your building to a coop or condo, or if you're living as a rent-stabilized tenant in a condo or coop that could be sold if you weren't there, the profit-incentives are even greater.
So you need to be vigilant in protecting your rights; you can be sure your landlord will use any means available to get control of your home.
To Protect Your Rights, You Must Know Your Rights
Take time to learn what rights and remedies housing-law gives you. I hope this report gives you a lot of helpful information; you can also learn a great deal online; the Resources section below lists a number of informative sites to visit. When properly understood, there are also useful handouts available from Housing Court and Homes and Community Renewal (formerly the Division of Housing and Community Renewal or DHCR) but be careful with them.
Most tenants don't know their rights. Don't be one of them. But being an informed tenant is no substitute for hiring an experienced Tenants' attorney to protect your interests and negotiate for you.
Hire A Tenants' Attorney To Represent You
Landlord Tenant law is complex. Only an experienced attorney can have the working knowledge of the hundreds of rules and regulations to help you navigate conflicts with your landlord. But amazingly, over 90% of tenants in Housing Court don't have lawyers. Yet 95% of landlords do. How can you defend yourself against an adversary who has retained a seasoned, knowledgeable expert to defeat you? In such circumstances you're very unlikely to win.
As you'll see, it's easy to get pushed around in Housing Court even if you know your rights. It can be hard not to waive protections without realizing it, which can endanger your chances of holding onto your home. Preparation is key.
For example, under the law, court-documents must be delivered to you (or "served") in a very specific way; you must both: a) receive the papers; and b) receive them properly. For Housing Court, landlords hire professional "process servers" to deliver legal papers that are supposed to alert you that you're being sued. They must make at least two attempts at personal delivery before leaving papers at your door and then send them by both regular and certified mail. Some process servers, who are paid according to how many sets of papers they deliver, will cut corners and attempt to serve them only once. This is called "sewer service" and is illegal.
Objecting that service was not proper buys time and can be a "bargaining chip" or leverage point in negotiating with your landlord's lawyer. Don't be surprised if your landlord's attorney writes a stipulation (even if only for an adjournement) that agrees you "submit to personal jurisdiction." Expect to hear something like "You agree you got the papers, right?" Sounds easy enough to agree to. But it's asking you to give up your right to dispute that you were served properly and lose that potential advantage.
That's just one example. There are dozens of other traps to ensnare you into giving up valuable rights. This is how trying to be your own lawyer puts you at a real risk.
So get an attorney if you can. When your home is at stake, especially if it's rent-regulated, its money well-spent. Borrow if you have to. If you lose your case and your home because you tried to represent yourself, the expense of finding a new apartment will probably be significantly more than what it would have cost you for a lawyer. There is also the risk of homelessness, and property-loss or -damage if you don't find a new home before a City Marshal evicts you.
Don't Take Landlord-Tenant Legal Advice From Real Estate Brokers Or Agents
Real Estate Brokers and agents are sales professionals who want to close deals. Unless your agent or broker is an attorney who has specific experience in Landlord Tenant law, it's not a good idea to base any legal decision involving a court matter involving your apartment on his or her opinion. Instead, find a competent Landlord Tenant lawyer who can properly advise you. Otherwise, if you sign a lease that you thought afforded you certain rights on their recommendation, you may find yourself in legal jeopardy.
To better understand your rights as a New York City Tenant, please visit these pages for more information regarding:
- Tenants' Rights
- Illegal Eviction
- Defense to Eviction
- Rent Stabilized Tenants' Rights
- Non Payment Rights
- Fight for Your Rights
- Strength in Numbers- Unite with Your Neighbors
- Holdover Rights
- Non-Primary Residence Holdover
- Don't Get Blacklisted
- Illusory Tenancy
- Sublease Tenants' Rights
- Roommate Rights
- Month to Month
- Breaking Leases Early
As one of New York City's most experienced Tenant rights attorneys. Jeff McAdams has extensive experience in fighting against abusive or illegal landlord maneuvers and helping his clients keep their apartments. Pleased contact our firm weekdays between 12:00 and 2:00 pm for your free telephone consultation.
Contact The Law Firm For More Information
Contact my office at 212-257-9425 or send an email to arrange a consultation.