Although New York City’s Rent-Stabilization Code carefully delineates legal rents and their proper increases for Rent Stabilized Apartments, sometimes landlords charge more than what is legally allowed. When this happens, tenants are often unaware that they’ve been overcharged and are paying more than they have to in rent. Fortunately, legal remedies may be available to protect your rights, depending on the facts of your situation.
An initial step in determining how much your regulated rent should actually be is to get a “certified rent history printout” from Homes and Community Renewal. Be sure to get the information from 1984 to the present. There are several New York City offices. The print out gives you details on how your regulated rent was set. If you suspect you’ve been overcharged once you examine the printout, call Tenant Rights lawyer Jeff McAdams for a brief initial phone consultation.
Overcharges generally take one of a few main forms, and are discussed in greater detail in McAdams Law’s Special Report, How to Protect Yourself Against a Ruthless, Greedy Landlord . Briefly, these are the more frequent violations to look for if you believe you might have been overcharged:
The “Four Year Escape”: There is a rule that says landlords only have to keep records for four years. Simply by letting four years go by, without filing the required annual rent registrations, some landlords have been able to argue that the next rent they charge after such a hiatus automatically becomes the legal regulated rent. In a number of cases in which the rent exceeded the “high rent” threshold (formerly $2,000, now $2,500), landlords have been able to deregulate 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 has been able to get back Rent Stabilization Coverage for apartments – in one instance, even after more than thirty years.
Illusory Tenancy: In these circumstances, landlords collude with accomplices to create sub-tenancies at inflated rents. Using intermediaries, they increase rates and rent apartments to unwitting victims at what seem like legal amounts. Illusory tenancies can be complex and difficult to investigate. You’d be best served by getting a Tenant’s lawyer to assist you if you are caught in the net of a landlord’s illusory tenancy.
Inflated Renovation Costs: Landlords sometimes pump up the actual costs of improvements when renovating vacant apartments. Based on these costs, if the “allowable” increase results in rents exceeding $2,500 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. These could include triple damages for overcharging and the ongoing security of a renewable lease.
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, there have been instances in which tenants discovered that they were entitled to rent-stabilized protections because their landlords accepted tax benefits for investments in their buildings, though they weren’t offered rent-regulated 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.
Security Deposit Overcharges: The maximum security deposit on a rent-stabilized apartment is one month's rent. If you live in a stabilized unit and have been required to pay more than that, you probably have been overcharged.
The Landlord Might End Up
Having to Pay You Triple Damages
Courts take violations of the Rent Stabilization Code seriously and can subject landlords to severe penalties. Your landlord can be ordered to pay you back triple the amount you’ve been overcharged.
If you believe your landlord has overcharged you, or that you may be entitled to rent-stabilized protections even though your landlord says the unit is unregulated, you owe it to yourself to find out more about what rights you may have.
Attorney Jeff McAdams is one of New York City’s leading Tenants' Rights practitioners, and has successfully protected his clients against landlord overcharges in a wide spectrum of cases.
You can learn more about rent overcharges in these tips and articles Jeff has published:
Call Tenants’ lawyer Jeff McAdams today to find out more about your legal rights against being overcharged by the landlord. You can get a free, brief initial phone consultation by calling 212-406-5145.
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305 Broadway, Suite 610
New York, NY 10007
Fax: (212) 619-0714
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