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Combating Unscrupulous Landlord Maneuvers at Renewal Time

Landlords sometimes get cagey about renewing a lease. Let's say you signed your renewal lease and sent it to the landlord in a timely manner, with a check for any increase due. You haven't received a copy back with the landlord's signature. You now have several options available to you, depending on whether your lease is rent-regulated or not.

If your apartment is rent-stabilized, the landlord is legally obligated to send you a renewal lease form not less than 90 days, and not more than 150 days, before expiration. That means you should get the paperwork within three to five months before your tenancy is due to renew.

Unless your plans are uncertain, you'll want to act promptly and take whatever steps are necessary to secure the renewal documentation. Once you do, sign it, make a copy with your signature, and send it out with proof of mailing. If you don't get it back within two or three weeks, follow up to get your copy, signed by the landlord. If the landlord is playing a game, you may have to go to Court to get things moving in the right direction.

If you don't receive your renewal lease, continue to pay your rent on time at the old rent amount. Under Rent Stabilization, the landlord is not entitled to any rent increase without a lease renewal. If you pay the increased rental rate, it can be deemed as your consent to the new lease, which may or may not be in your best interests.

In some instances, it may be beneficial to file a complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. But first call a Tenants' lawyer for a consultation, since the DHCR is not always the best place to begin, and may present a problem for your case. In addition, there are other important reasons to retain legal help...


Get Professional Representation for Lease Renewal Matters

 A rent-stabilized apartment in New York City is a precious asset these days, which can almost never be replaced once it's lost. In the absence of having a lease in hand that establishes your continuing rights, you need to formulate a strategy to protect your interests. The more time that passes in which you don't have written validation of the extension of your tenancy, the more vulnerable you may become. This is one type of Landlord Tenant case in which many things can go wrong if allowed to drag out. That's why you're best off having professional legal help, as opposed to trying to represent yourself.

If your lease is unregulated, in most instances the landlord does not have to offer you a renewal. An exception is if it can be proved that he or she is retaliating against you for complaining about violation of your tenant rights. However, retaliatory eviction claims are complicated and difficult to win.

If the landlord has cashed rent checks on your free market unit after the lease has ended, so much the better for you. In New York State, a month-to-month tenancy arises when a landlord accepts rent after a lease expires. He cannot sue for eviction without first terminating your tenancy. But remember: Your tenancy cannot be terminated in retaliation.

Whether your apartment is rent-stabilized or unregulated, keep this in mind: Rights that aren't pursued can be lost, and this is nowhere more true than when you don't have a lease.


"...took my money, but didn't give me the renewal lease..."

 At times a landlord will continue to cash monthly rental checks, including the one sent for the annual rent increase, without returning the renewal documents. In this scenario, he may automatically be on the hook for a renewing your tenancy. If your unit is rent-stabilized and you pay the increased rent, case law holds that your renewal is valid, whether you got the lease back or not.

If you're in a free market apartment, and the landlord took your money but didn't renew the lease once you returned the paperwork, your position is not as strong. However, an experienced Tenants' attorney can argue that because you renewed, and the landlord accepted a higher rent payment without rescinding the renewal, your lease should continue. A Housing Court judge might go for this line of reasoning and rule in your favor. Adequate documentation that establishes a paper trail is critical to success with this claim.


Your Landlord's Refusal to Accept Rent
Can Halt Eviction Proceedings

A landlord may refuse to accept rent from a tenant in an attempt to bolster an eviction claim at renewal time, particularly when trying to gain control of a rent-regulated unit. This is often concurrent with a refusal to supply the renewal lease. There are defenses to this tactic. If you have made an effort to pay your rent in good faith, but the landlord doesn't accept it, the eviction case for "nonpayment" can be dismissed.

You will have to document your attempts to make payment as proof for the Court. Keep a record of dates you visited the management office with the rent, or be able to show that you sent the rent by certified mail and it was refused. Under the legal doctrine of "tendered but refused" you can be absolved of these rent payments and it is a defense against eviction. Alternatively, the Court may force the landlord to accept payment when the case is dismissed.

Be prompt, precise and strategic in all your actions, and you'll have the greatest chance of success in dealing with a renewal lease problem.

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