Rent-stabilized tenants have a right to a free copy of their apartment's rent history. The Omnibus Housing Act of 1983 computerized rent stabilization records starting in 1984, and that's as far back as you can go for the printout. Going back further, or for rent control records (available from HCR's Central Office at Gertz Plaza in Queens) requires a Freedom of Information Law request or a subpoena. To get a printout, call Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). Getting a "certified copy" of it (which establishes its own evidentiary foundation for Court proceedings) requires a personal visit to one of HCR's five offices with proof that you live in the apartment. Ask specifically for a "certified rent history printout from 1984 to the present." Two offices are in Manhattan, one in each of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.
The law required landlords to file an initial rent registration for every rent-stabilized apartment in 1984, and thereafter, for rent stabilized apartments, to renew registrations annually. Carefully examine the sequence of registrations. If there's a year missing from registration within the last four years, you can challenge the rent increase. The landlord is not supposed to raise rent above the previous legally registered rent, although now they can register retroactively, if the missing registration is exactly the amount provided for in the annual guidelines.
Every year you should receive notification of the annual registration by mail. Keep them all. Changes in the law stop you from bringing an overcharge claim merely based on improper rent increases or lack of registration going back further than four years unless you show a pattern of fraud to evade rent regulations. So letting a defect in registration pass for more than four years makes it much harder to assert rent overcharges.
Don't Bring Rent-Overcharge Complaints At Homes And Community Renewal
For decades in major lobbying efforts landlords have targeted HCR; it became the worst forum for tenants. Things have improved from the Pataki years, but still, if you bring overcharge claims at the HCR, it stops you from challenging the rent amount in Court if your landlord sues you. If you've already made a complaint to the HCR, check with a Tenants' attorney about withdrawing it so you can bring it in Court where better outcomes are possible.
Rent Stabilization And Rent Control Extend All The Tenancy's Terms And Conditions
Nevertheless, unscrupulous landlords try to trick tenants into adding new limitations or additional charges. Even it your landlord gives you new lease "riders" you don't have to sign them; you don't have to agree to any changes. And modifications will usually be binding. Question any attempt of this kind from your landlord. If you already agreed to changes in an earlier renewal, you may still be able to remove these provisions, but it might require a lawsuit. Start by talking to a Tenants' attorney. Avoid having to defend lawsuits in Housing Court, which raises the specter of blacklisting. If you can't resolve the matter without litigation, your lawyer can sue your landlord in New York State Supreme Court, where, to avoid black listing you even while resolving all issues between you and your landlord, it may be possible to get a "restraining order" blocking your landlord from suing you in Housing Court. Staying out of Housing Court protects your name from being sold to background checking agencies, which in turn makes you a blacklisting victim.
Combatting Your Landlord's Grabbing Your Apartment For Himself...
The landlord wants to throw you out in the street. At least that's what the papers served on you say, if not in so many words. He may have a valid eviction claim for personal use. Fortunately, you have defenses…
Landlords and purchasers of buildings must comply with the rights of their rent-stabilized tenants. However, instead of renewing a lease at expiration, if the landlord is an individual owner (as opposed to a corporate-owner, or a shareholder in a corporation that owns the building) for himself or family members he can bring a "personal use holdover" which permits landlords to evict rent-stabilized tenants to use the apartment for the owner's personal use, or the personal use of an immediate family member.
There are a number of legal defenses for tenants in personal–use holdovers; these are common ones:
- First, for a landlord to have this right, the property must be in the owner's name, and not owned through a legal entity, such as a corporation or partnership. Many landlords avoid owning property in individual capacities to avoid "personal liabilities." You can research your building's ownership though public records on ACRIS. If the deed is not in the individual owner's name, citing this fact in court should be enough to defeat the eviction proceeding.
- Second, the landlord or family member must prove a good faith intention and economic capacity to follow through on construction plans and then live in the unit for at least three years. A knowledgeable Tenants' attorney can help you challenge this.
- And third, if you or your spouse is over 62 years old or disabled, the landlord must offer an apartment of at least the same size and quality in the immediate neighborhood, at the same rent or lower. Finding one is generally a costly proposition for the landlord; raising this defense may result in him or her discontinuing the entire effort to evict you.
If you receive papers threatening eviction through a personal-use holdover, it's dangerous to proceed without qualified representation. Unlike some Landlord Tenant issues in which tenants more easily succeed when representing themselves, this landlord-claim is far more risky because "personal-use" claims are grounds to evict rent regulated tenants. To fight a showing the landlord meets the legal requirements for a personal use holdover you need to know what tricks to look for and how to uncover them to maximize your chances of holding onto your home. Even if you're financially strapped, it's better to scrape together the money to retain a competent Tenant's attorney to protect you.
Lease Renewals And Succession Rights
In Rent Stabilized apartments, many adult children live with their parents; individuals with family-type relationships live together who are not related by blood or marriage. Frequently, landlords try to take back the unit when the named leaseholder vacates.
Disputes commonly arise at lease renewals. For example, if during the expiring lease term a parent went into a nursing-home or rehab-facility and left a spouse, son, or daughter as the apartment's sole occupant, or the primary leaseholder moved out for some other reason, a question arises: who should sign a lease renewal offer for the tenant? If the vacating named-tenant signs the renewal offer, then they can't claim to have vacated. The problem is that if the named tenant doesn't vacate, the family member can't succeed to the tenancy. And during the subsequent renewal terms the named tenant (who moved out without actually vacating) won't be using the apartment as a primary residence (which is required to give succession rights to remaining family members. Some judges will find that the family is disqualified from succeeding to the tenancy based on this technical reading of the elements of succession-rights. Seeking succession rights in circumstances of this nature involve uncertain court battles about renewing the lease and retaining tenancy rights in the family.
Challenge The Landlord When You're Slapped For M.C.I.
Some landlords make improvements in their buildings and attempt to illegally pass on the costs to tenants. For those in rent-regulated units, your response should be, "Not so fast." Strict rules govern when landlords are allowed to recoup expenses for building-wide improvements by raising monthly base rent an additional amount per room. There are several considerations. For one thing, ordinary maintenance never entitles landlords to rent increases. And for MCIs, the work has to be a building-wide Major Capital Improvement (thus the initials, M.C.I.). So, being building-wide, all tenants must benefit. And as a "Capital Improvement" it has to be essential for the enhancement of the property and depreciable. For MCIs, owners must apply to the NY State Division of Homes and Community Renewal for approval. Tenants get a chance to review and comment on the application and challenge the landlord's MCI request if the work is of poor quality or incomplete, if there is an outstanding rent reduction order, if the useful life of similar earlier work has not ended, or if the application wasn't filed within two years of finishing improvements. Fighting MCIs can be an opportunity to organize a rent strike and consider bringing suit in Supreme Court.
The "Four-Year Escape"
Landlords say that rent regulations only require them to keep records for four years. By letting four years go by, then, without filing the required annual rent registrations, to sometimes landlords have successfully argued that the next rent they charge after such a hiatus automatically becomes the legal regulated rent. Many times when the rent exceeded the "high rent" threshold (initially $2,000, increasing to $2,700 by 2016), landlords deregulated many units. Fortunately, the four year "statute of limitations" does not apply to the status of whether or not apartments are rent-stabilized. In several cases McAdams Law gotten back the Rent Stabilization Coverage for apartments – in one instance after more than thirty years. And the highest Court in the State has ruled that because time passing, alone, does not turn an illegal into a legal rent, fraud suspends statutes of limitations. And the Appellate Division, First Department (covering Manhattan and the Bronx) has ruled that until 2011, for an apartment to become deregulated by high-rent (because the rent exceeded the de-regulation threshold) the last rent-regulated tenant must have paid over $2,000. I.e., until 2011 it was not enough to raise rent above $2,000 with a vacancy increase, even if combined with Individual Apartment Improvements, unless the last rent regulated tenant paid over $2,000. I.e., Until 2011, for an apartment to leave rent stabilization coverage, before vacating the apartment, some-rent regulated tenant must have paid $2,000 or more to release the apartment from rent regulations for the next incoming tenant. The law is changed now so rent exceeding $2,700 is not enough to deregulate, but these decisions have helped McAdams Law get Rent Stabilized protections (including renewal leases instead of eviction) and overcharges for improperly deregulated tenants.
Inflated Renovation Costs
Landlords sometimes pump up the actual costs of improvements when renovating vacant apartments. Based on such "costs," if the "allowable" increase results in rents exceeding $2,700 monthly for vacant units, they can be deregulated and escape rent-stabilization. If you're charged a non-regulated, market-rate rent, based on living in an apartment that was newly renovated when you moved in, looking into the unit's history might uncover rights you could be entitled to under rent-stabilization. If you find something exaggerated or improper, the remedy can be that you get a right to renew your lease when it expires and triple damages for overcharging.
Apartments That Should Be Rent Stabilized But Aren't
Aside from situations that involve renovated units with inflated costs, it's possible to have apartments in which the landlord blatantly ignores the rent-stabilization code and charges market rates anyway. For example, tenants have discovered that they were entitled to rent-stabilized protections because their landlords accepted tax benefits for investments in their buildings, though the landlord never offered rent stabilized leases. You might be in a similar situation. Investigation can reveal whether your landlord accepted tax benefits and was supposed to provide rent-stabilized tenancies as part of the arrangement.
You Get A Letter In The Mail. It Says The Landlord Is Taking Your Apartment For Himself
Under current New York rent-stabilization laws, instead of renewing your lease, your landlord has the legal right to remove you from your apartment if he or she intends to occupy it personally, or if it's for the use of a family member. For this, between 150 and 90 days before your current lease expires, you will receive a letter notifying you that your landlord will not renew your lease at the end of its term. For most tenants, this presents a housing crisis, because locating another rent-regulated apartment is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
Fortunately, Tenants' Attorney Jeffrey McAdams has extensive experience in successfully representing clients faced with a landlord's "personal use" claims. Effective defenses include the following:
- revealing profit is the motive instead of a good faith intention of personal use by proving the landlord made a similar claim in the past and then did not occupy the premises;
- showing that the proposed occupant doesn't fit the legal definition of a "family member";
- asserting the requirement for tenants who are senior citizens (defined as 62 or over) or disabled, that the landlord offer you a similar, rent-stabilized unit at an equivalent monthly rate in the same neighborhood, before starting a personal use holdover – this requirement also applies to your spouse – which can be untenable;
- showing that the building is owned by a partnership or corporation defeats an individual landlord's attempt to seize the unit for personal use;
- if the apartment is rent-controlled and you've lived there for 20 years or more it is not subject to personal use claims at all.
Navigating The Treacherous Waters Of Personal Use Litigation
More often than not, with a personal use claim litigation is involved, making these cases among the more complex Landlord Tenant matters. Even in attempting to reach an amicable settlement, negotiations need to be handled very carefully, because it's easy to forfeit valuable legal rights and get the short end of a deal.
Also, if you negotiate and agree to leave, you relinquish the opportunity to seek damages later. If you make a bad deal for yourself, you're stuck with it. That's why it's a good to seek an experienced Tenants' Lawyer to help you. If you end up vacating your apartment, you're more likely to get better results by having a knowledgeable attorney do your negotiating.
If You Make Too Much Money, Your Rent-Stabilized Rights May Go Right Out The Window
Luxury decontrol. These are two words that often terrify tenants who reside in rent-stabilized apartments. With good reason too, because if your monthly rent and income exceed certain thresholds as a rent-stabilized tenant, the landlord escapes rent-regulation. When your apartment isn't rent-regulated, your landlord has the right to charge you market rates for the unit, or can decide not to renew your lease altogether.
In 2011, changes were made to the luxury decontrol provisions of the law. As of 2016, if your apartment is rent-stabilized and rents for over $2,700 a month, it can be deregulated and adjusted to market rates if your household income exceeds $200,000 as reported on your federal income tax returns for two year in a row. The question becomes whether the household income is over that amount. If so, your unit can be deregulated.
Traps For The Unwary Tenant
While the new law raised the rent and income thresholds over what they were previously, a potential luxury decontrol dispute can still be a dangerous threat to your rent-stabilized tenancy.
For example, if you live with family members, their income probably factors into the threshold equation. That means if someone moves into your apartment, and either now or later earns an income that meets or exceeds $200,000 when added to yours, you're at risk once your monthly rent exceeds $2,700.
If you're facing a potential luxury deregulation problem and are in danger of losing your rent-stabilized status, or if you suspect this may be a problem for you down the road, get legal help now. A Tenants' lawyer can review the facts of your particular situation, and develop a legal strategy that might preserve your rent-regulated status.
Tenants' lawyer Jeff McAdams has dealt with numerous issues related to luxury decontrol in New York City, and has helped many tenants to protect their rent-stabilized rights.
Remember, a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City is a precious asset nowadays, which can almost never be replaced once it's lost. By getting proper legal advice, you'll be in a better position to make smart decisions and plan effectively for the future.
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