Being overcharged in an illegal sublet in a rent-controlled apartment. No lease. What do?
May 28, 2012 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I've been living in a month-to-month, no-lease sublet in Manhattan since January. I just found out that' it's a NYCHA rent-controlled apartment, and i'm paying way more than my 'share' of the monthly rent (also, i'm pretty sure subletting a rent-controlled apartment is illegal.) Clearly i'm going to be moving out ASAP. What else should I do? Do I have grounds for financial recoupment?

More details: It's a 3-bedroom place that's being used as a 4-bedroom, because the guy who I'm subletting it from lives in the living room (which can be shut off by a door). So no common space, just individual bedrooms and a kitchen. Not a lot of interaction between the roommates. He sublets all three bedrooms, and we each pay between $900 and $1000/mo.

In the kitchen the other day, I found that the guy I sublet the apartment from had left some income verification and rent-control documents out, and found out that the apartment is in his parents' name to be used as a family residence, and the total rent is a little over $2000/mo. I think i'm the only one of the subletters who knows this.

So, yeah, I'm being defrauded, subsidizing this dude's housing and partaking in an illegal subletting situation. I'm not really happy with any of these things. Aside from getting out as quickly as possible, do I have any other recourse? Could I get money from him for overcharging me, considering I don't have a lease? Should I tell the NYCHA?

Throwaway for more info/private messages/etc:
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did he ever say you were only paying x% of the rent? Or, did he offer a price, and you accepted? Is he legally allowed to sublet? It feels crappy, but this may be completely legal, and he is just pocketing cash, because rent in the area is high.
posted by kellyblah at 6:10 PM on May 28, 2012

Here's the document that you should read - the first one that shows up when you google "sublet rent-control nyc". Basically: yes, if you are being charged above the rent that he's paying in a rent-control or rent-stabilized apartment in NYC, you can contact NYCHA and file for repayment of the overcharge; he will be required to pay you 3x the overcharge. Note that it's perfectly legal for him to charge you the total amount of rent that he's expected to pay - there's no expectation that he "chip in" for rent. He can sublet for the total amount owed.

Basically, you have to figure out what you want out of the situation. If you like living there, you're in a good negotiating position to lower your rent and stay. If you want to screw the guy and get a ton of money back, you're in a good position to do that, too.
posted by one_bean at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Former housing advocate here. Also worked for a private landlord.

Let's assume that he, as the child of the leaseholders, has succession rights to the apt. He might not, but he probably does. This means that his name might as well be on the lease. Let's assume he lived there with his parents for some period of time and thus can remain there. Let's leave this aspect out of it for now. (It's extremely hard to prove that a son of tenants does NOT have succession rights; very, very hard.)

This is therefore likely not a sublet but a roommate situation. And it is likely not cold hard illegal in practice. Rent-stabilized tenants are allowed, technically, to have one non-family roommate and an unlimited number of family member roommates. This question of >1 non-family roommates is not enforced and the landlord will likely not care too much if they're related as long as the number of people in the place is around 1 per room. Overcrowding standards are very, very high.

YOU are not being charged more than the total rent. You're being charged some portion of the total rent. That's fine. There are no hard rules on that. The roommates in aggregate may be paying more than the total rent, probably are, but from your perspective as an individual you are not going to get any relief.

In theory, I repeat in theory, it may be possible to pursue an overcharge complaint if all roommates worked together (and these are strangers or all but) because I take it the roommate rent, added together, is more than the legal rent. In weighing whether to do this, you should consider, very carefully, what market rate for another apt. share in that neighborhood is, and also how much time away from work you will need to go to housing court. To say nothing of time assembling documents and preparing. That's assuming the roommates cooperate...a long shot.

BUT this is all moot unless the landlord wants this tenant out. He may because he may wish to destabilize, renovate the apt., and rent it for much, much more. This is probably only true if it is in a highly desirable neighborhood.

But EVEN IF HE DID want the tenant out, that wouldn't be so easy to do. The tenant in all probability will remain there and do whatever he wants. More likely is that LL would say to the tenant "Hey! This building is not a dormitory! I want no more than 2 roommates!" And life goes on.

It's not so easy to "screw" someone with succession rights. So most likely the tenant will just say to you, "hey, if you're not OK with the rent you're paying, I can find someone else."

OK. Now, I'm not saying you have to listen to every word I say and have no other gods before me. But when you talk about this with your friends a/o other internet people, do recall that in NYC everyone's a housing expert. I am not a lawyer, no, but I worked for an agency that paid me money to go to Housing Court for many, many cases when the attorneys were busy. ALSO, unfortunately, I had the experience of working for the other side.

So my advice in brief: don't go thinking big recoupment. If you have nothing else to do with your time and you're good with people, it might be worth a shot...if you don't mind moving.
posted by skbw at 6:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Subletting a rent controlled apartment is not illegal. Also, if he's living there, he's not subletting, he has roommates. NYCHA has two forms of subsidized housing--section 8 and public housing (the projects). A public housing apartment cannot be rent controlled. A section 8 apartment can. I can't see any way that you're being defrauded--NYCHA maybe. If you report this to NYCHA, they'll eventually evict all of you. If this guy is judgment-proof (poor), you will never recover a dime from him because you can't get blood from a turnip.

In conclusion, you don't seem to have been harmed, your facts are muddled, please don't take legal advice from people on Metafilter, and don't report this guy unless fucking him over is all the satisfaction you need because you won't benefit from it. IAAL, IANYL, TINLA, etc.
posted by Mavri at 6:42 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am assuming (correct me, OP) that this is NOT in fact a NYCHA apartment. A NYCHA apartment would be in a housing project.

Or, as mavri pointed out, it could, just possibly, be Section 8, which is also run by NYCHA. Section 8 might actually be interested in hearing this story, as opposed to DHCR and the housing courts, who basically will not care. I would be very surprised to hear of a section 8 apartment in good enough shape and location to be rented for $1000/room.

BUT if it is section 8, which I respectfully doubt, all Section 8 will do is evict the lot of you. End of story. You would have to pursue him elsewhere.
posted by skbw at 6:52 PM on May 28, 2012

Look, if you're paying what the room is worth to you, I wouldn't worry about this. I have occasionally rented my apartment temporarily for more than I pay-- I calculated an amount based on the rent plus utilities plus professional cleaning costs plus... plus I know that the apartment is worth more than I pay so I can rent it out for a month for "market price" when I'm away, even though I pay 70% of that market price myself.

You agreed that the room was worth the price so it's worth the price. If you feel uncomfortable with the arrangement and choose to move out, I'm sure someone else will move right it. Believing that everything should be "fair" and "even" is, frankly, naive.
posted by bonheur at 7:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah I had the same conversation as above my first year in NYC. I was talking to someone and saying my roommate, the leaseholder, was overcharging me. I said 'that's not fair!!'. And my friend said, 'this is New York, the other person holds the lease, who said anything has to be fair?'
posted by bquarters at 7:28 PM on May 28, 2012

and don't report this guy unless fucking him over is all the satisfaction you need because you won't benefit from it.

What's more, when you go looking for another apartment, be prepared to be asked about your rental history and have to explain this event in a way that your new potential landlord will sympathize with you.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:31 AM on May 29, 2012

I think it's an asshole thing to do that subverts the purpose of regulated housing - providing for income-diverse neighborhoods - and instead is one person doing personal profiteering and is gross an there's a reason the law provides an incentivizing amount like triple damages. It's not 'naive' to 'expect things to be fair', it's cynical to happily participate in undermining laws that are meant to protect and benefit poorer people and society as a whole.

If you can afford to burn your bridges and more research shows that you have grounds, then I'm all for suing him. That said it does sound like you need more research. It's unclear what kind of housing you're talking about and what laws and authorities might apply, and where you would go for recourse.

Is it possibly Mitchell Lama housing? That's tied to income but might not look like a project.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:43 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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