Schroedinger's Lease Renewal (NYC tenant law issue)
May 27, 2021 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Disclaimers first: you are not my lawyer, you are not offering legal advice, I know that this is a question that varies widely by jurisdiction. However, I'm still asking since there are a good handful of NYC Mefites here and this concerns wacky NYC tenant law. Buckle up.

So - my building just got bought out by a new owner. The old landlord went looking for someone who would keep the tenants, and the deal was done a couple weeks ago. I'm in a 4-unit brownstone, with most tenants having been here for several years. I do not think we are rent stabilized or rent controlled.

Today, we all received a notice from the new landlord which stated that he was giving us 90-days notice that at the end of each of our respective leases, he was NOT going to be renewing our leases. However, we each got a verbal notice that "but we can give you a new lease with rent that's closer to market value". I spoke at length with the landlord about that, and the rent would be jumping up 50%.

Now - on the ONE hand, what I'm finding with my Googling of NYC tenant law is that because I'm not rent stabilized or rent controlled, the landlord can do whatever the hell he wants. However, on the OTHER hand, my boss suggested that the "Oh, I'm not going to renew your lease - but I'm MORE than happy to start over with a brand new lease that's way more money" is sketchy as hell and possibly illegal.

Some details about my apartment and me:

* It's a 2-bedroom in Clinton Hill. I came in as a roommate in 2006, and then in about 2008 my roommate moved out and signed the lease over to me and it's been under my name ever since.

* I have never missed a rent payment.

* The biggest repair issues have been 3 instances of ceiling leaks - one of which was another neighbor's fault, and they ultimately paid for it - and the replacement of a stove. Other than that it's been bog-standard sink uncloggings and that's it. The old landlord thought the sun shone out my ass.

* It's a little below what this site says is the average rent on a 2-bedroom in my neighborhood.

* Typically, when the landlord's offered a lease renewal, I sign up for the 2-year lease because I prefer to lock things in and stay put.

* Again, I do not think I am rent stabilized or rent controlled, and everything I've read about "how can you figure out if you should be rent stabilized" suggests that I'm not.

* I asked my new landlord "ballpark" what the new rent would be. He quoted me what "the current market rate" is for my neighborhood, which was CONSIDERABLY more than what is on this site - but "to be fair to you", he was going to charge less; but the figure he quoted was still a 50% increase on my current rent.

...My current lease ends at the end of August. I really, really don't want to have to move (although I've already quietly begun looking at housing ads just in case, and am finding that other apartments in my price range DO exist in this neighborhood so I'm not TOTALLY screwed). I have also written to request a copy of the rent history for my building in case that gives me any information. I've also spoken to another one of my neighbors - her lease expires in October, so she's got a bit more time but is still worried. She told me a third neighbor already got a call from the landlord with a new rent offer (the 3rd neighbor is newest to the building and was already paying more than either of us, and he wanted to jack it up still further), and the fourth neighbor is likely going to move out (she was already looking and was about to close on a place).

So. Is my boss right, that the "oh, we're not renewing your lease, but we're writing you a new one that happens to be more" thing is weird as hell and cause for a call to Legal Aid? Or am I SOL because it's not rent controlled and that means the new landlord can do whatever?

Is there anything else I can do that I haven't thought of?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ask departing landlord for a copy of the sale contract -- you say they specifically went looking for a buyer who would keep the current tenants, and you want to see how that stipulation is worded (if at all) and show the paperwork to Legal Aid.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:10 PM on May 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

This is a partial concern but still relevant. If you are covid affected in any way, check current support for rent relief and lease termination suspension. If anything, if you decide you have to move, this may buy you extra time so you can secure something well suited.
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:10 PM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Have you submitted a form question with the HCR? I almost think mentioning that we were in touch with them was what prompted our landlord to offer a renewal lease to us, but no one else in the building.
posted by cakelite at 6:24 PM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Have you submitted a form question with the HCR?

I haven't, largely because I don't understand what you mean by this?....what is a "form question" and why would I want to submit one?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 PM on May 27, 2021

Addendum to above. Not similar but not distant, HRC is a good contact. A local renters rights organization may help. I once briefly mentioned some association and the reality company in question stopped probing with any forced tone, immediately. đź‘Ś
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:33 PM on May 27, 2021

I mean...don’t you want to know what’s going on? Aren’t you asking if this situation is kosher or not? When I was in basically your same situation only recently I googled “nyc am I rent stabilized” or something like that and found this. It seems like “verify 100% with the city that I am not rent stabilized and they can get away with this” would be your next step.
posted by cakelite at 6:33 PM on May 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cakelite, it's more that I literally do not understand what you are saying in the way you have phrased what you are saying: What is "a form question", what does "HRC" stand for, and what is it you are suggesting I ask them?

I have already investigated whether I am rent controlled or rent stabilized, through other means, and everything I've read suggests I am not (the building's the wrong age, there aren't enough units, the tax breaks are wrong, etc.). I did submit a request for my rent history, since I read that that may be a way to tell, but from what i have ascertained from rent stabilization laws, there ain't no chance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think cakelite is saying to find out your apartment building's status for certain, which is great advice, and which you can do by contacting Homes and Community Renewal (HRC), a gov't agency. For example:

"While rent control and rent stabilization both involve rent regulation, they have different sets of regulations. According to the 2017 NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey, there are about 22,000 rent controlled apartments vs. about 966,000 rent stabilized apartments.[...] In New York City, apartments are under rent stabilization if they are in buildings of six or more units built between February 1, 1947, and December 31, 1973. Tenants in buildings built before February 1, 1947, who moved in after June 30, 1971, are also covered by rent stabilization. A third category of rent stabilized apartments covers buildings with three or more apartments constructed or extensively renovated on or after January 1, 1974 with special tax benefits. Generally, those buildings are only subject to stabilization while the tax benefits continue or, in some cases, until the tenant vacates." (Emphasis mine)

As for 'extensive renovation', you moved in decades after that 1974 start date, and while you had a good relationship with old landlord, few landlords discuss their regular tax business in depth with their tenants never mind special tax benefits.

"There are many exceptions to these rules. [...] The only way to know if your apartment is rent stabilized is to contact NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state agency which administers the rent laws. You can use the Ask HCR web portal to find out if your apartment is rent stabilized." [Drop-down choice in form at link, under Reason: "Am I rent stabilized".]
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:10 PM on May 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

IANYL. Yes, find out for sure, because it will make a huge difference. Literally between probably having to move and almost certainly not having to.

(It's DHCR, not HRC, in case that's causing some of the confusion.)

Since he's giving you adequate notice under the new law, it sounds like you might indeed be SOL. I suspect that the reason he wants a new lease is that he wants to substantially change the non-rent terms, so read the new one very carefully.

This moron is playing with fire, btw. Landlords are not in a good position right now. I think if you look on Streeteasy you will find that you can get a place as least as nice, if nicer, than your current, and then enjoy watching this fool trying to lease your unit.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 PM on May 27, 2021

Ask departing landlord for a copy of the sale contract -- you say they specifically went looking for a buyer who would keep the current tenants, and you want to see how that stipulation is worded (if at all) and show the paperwork to Legal Aid.

BTW, a tenant will prrrrrrrrrrobably not have standing to enforce a contract provision (they would pretty much have to be specifically identified as a third-party beneficiary, which is quite rare). So if Old Landlord doesn't care...
posted by praemunire at 8:52 PM on May 27, 2021

Best answer: If you don't have a legal basis to protest, I would try coming back with (in writing) with a note that says, based on these three comparable apartments (you can pick "comparable" in a way that is favorable to you), current market rates appear to be $x. I appreciate your offer to be fair to me and charge slightly below market rates in exchange for you getting tenant with a known track record of reliable on-time payment. I would be willing to pay $y for a two year lease with substantially similar terms as my current lease.

Expect him to come with something higher than your proposal and watch out for him shifting expenses currently cover by the lease to come out of your pocket but at least letting him know that you have viable options and maybe he really would be better offer making a deal with you.
posted by metahawk at 9:41 PM on May 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

I almost wonder whether it wouldn't be better to move now, when the market is relatively good for renters, than stay in a building where the landlord has no qualms raising rent by 50% (and at the tail end of a pandemic that's been economically disastrous for many).
posted by trig at 12:08 AM on May 28, 2021

Response by poster: I've been in contact with cakelite; "find out for certain" was indeed what they were trying to say, and I think my own panic (fueled by having read some rent-regulation law for NYC already and found out that my building most likely ISN'T) kept me from understanding. But I've submitted that request anyway.

I did already look on Streeteasy and found that there are 15 other apartments in my price range in this neighborhood....but I mean, I don't WANT the hassle of moving at all right now, hunting for apartments when I have a bad leg as it is is just going to suck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 AM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The way it's being phrased as a non-renewal of your lease is because per the 2019 tenant protection law, they are specifically required to do this.

That said, nobody actually is going to agree to a 50% rent increase. My guess is that the new landlord plans to renovate the apartments and THEN increase the rent, but that they're offering you the old apartment at the new rent on the off chance you take it. But it's also possible they're just being dumb and are doing this wrong, there's no rule that landlords have to be good at their jobs any more than anyone else.

If it turns out that your apartment isn't rent stabilized, ultimately this is a negotiation between you and them. I agree that sending them comps is a great place to start -- if your apartment is below average in some ways (even if above average in others), point that out to them! It costs them time and aggravation for you to move out as well, so there is a benefit to everyone if you stay, and if their new rent is exorbitant then they'll just have a vacant apartment for a long time and they'll want to know that.

Good luck!
posted by goingonit at 4:38 AM on May 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

the OTHER hand, my boss suggested that the "Oh, I'm not going to renew your lease - but I'm MORE than happy to start over with a brand new lease that's way more money" is sketchy as hell and possibly illegal.

IANYL, but I can't think of any reason this would be illegal in an unregulated apartment. The landlord can set the rent at whatever the market will bear. Or he can set it higher than the market will bear and sit there with a empty apartment. I'm sorry, landlord suck.
posted by Mavri at 6:32 AM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: After sleeping on it, I have resigned myself to the fact that I think I'm going to have to move; I'm still going to check into the legality, but I'm also starting to look at apartment listings. Fortunately there are several options at my price point in this neighborhood, about half of which seem like legit "hey, I actually kinda wanna see that" options.

My boss also followed up with me and we discussed things further, and he now agrees that "yeah, it sounds like the legal angle may be a longer shot after all", but he had some ideas for how I could "have fun with this process" - as in, I ask the new landlord so many "innocent" questions about the new lease that he ultimately gets annoyed and says "okay, we give up, we will PAY YOU to just get out of here," and then we take that money and hire the first-class movers to move us into the new apartment that we have secretly already signed up for. ....If nothing else, it feels sufficiently vengeful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:50 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is a good question to bring to the Met Council's Tenants' Rights Hotline. I brought them a lease renewal questions a while back and they were very helpful. They can help you get some clarity on your options at least.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 7:11 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Reading your follow-up, I'm not sure that your boss is a good source of advice on this issue. In my experience "having fun with the process" is likely to be successful at annoying the landlord but I don't see why the landlord would pay to get rid of you - all the landlord has to do is ignore the more annoying messages and wait for your lease to run out. Plus, while your boss might think it is fun to be annoying even if you don't get anything out of it in the end, it certainly would not be my kind of fun.
posted by metahawk at 1:00 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have been through several landlord-tenant rodeos in NYC. The first step is indeed to contact DHCR to see if you’re rent-stabilized. Likely not, as you say. The second step for me has been to contact the Brooklyn Bar Association, which will refer you for a free consultation with a real-estate lawyer. Often the lawyer will answer your questions in that initial free consultation, but talk fast.
posted by Ollie at 8:06 AM on May 30, 2021

Response by poster: The DHCR has already written back to say that according to their records, this is not rent-stabilized.

Two of the other tenants reached out to me today to see if we all want to discuss whether we may want to push back a little, at the very least to get some kind of moving fees paid. I think we'll figure out what questions we have and then collectively go to Legal Aid or the Brooklyn Bar.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2021

Response by poster: Our war council met last night. One of us IS a lawyer (although not in real estate law), and another one of us knows a lawyer. We have collectively identified other ways that our new landlord is dicking us over (like, oh, NOT HAVING A SUPER YET and NOT PUTTING OUT THE TRASH FOR TWO WEEKS).

We're collectively pushing back for a whole hell of a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just for the record for the future (and after marking this resolved) -

The tenant who is the lawyer consulted with a colleague who knows tenant law in the specific - and they told her that sorry, we are unfortunately screwed, because we are not rent-stabilized. The most we could do is threaten to force him into evicting us, and even there we would ultimately lose that battle so that would at most buy us a little time (while potentially messing up our credit). She even called the landlord's lawyer to see if she could drop any "we'd hate to get into a situation where anyone is talking about eviction" veiled threats, but the other guy just sort of shrugged and was all "bring it on". She said we should back off - what he was doing was legal. INCREDIBLY DUMB, but legal.

We have gotten somewhere with the trash though - the landlord initiated a discussion with our old super to stay on, but the conversation got put on hold after our old super asked "so how much would you pay me" and the landlord said "I'll get back to you" but never did. The landlord got a summons for the trash pileup, and the old super found out we'd been left to twist in the wind and came to our rescue. (And he's going to keep doing it and bill our new landlord what HE thinks is the right price.)

And in fairly short order my roommate and I found a place we wanted to apply for that we have a VERY good shot at, so within a week we may be telling the new landlord to go pound sand anyway, and this dude will be on the hook for a building without any tenants in it and it'll be his loss.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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