Know Your Rights As A Tenant
On Saturday the 25th several hundred rent stabilized tenants along and
law makers gathered at Fordum University's Law school for one of the
largest housing rights forums in the city. The focus of the event was
to educate rent regulated tenants who like many other New Yorkers have
very little understanding of their rights as renters. In what has
become for too common as story with in the audience have found
themselves in housing court of frivolous non-payment cases while
others' were facing the situation of their landlords refusing to renew
their leases. Some of these tenants also felt that they were being over
charged for their rents and simply did not know where to go. And still
others were dealing with the problem of illegal hotel operations in
Rent Regulation in New York while not being news has come about due to the inability of the private sector and most housing programs to create a substantial number of affordable housing units. As a result, lawmakers and municipalities have but in place a series of laws which would prevent a glutaney of market rate units while forcing working class New Yorkers into the outer boroughs and in some cases out of the state altogether. Unlike market rate buildings, landlords are limited in how much they legally can raise their rents every year. The governing body, known as the Rent Guidelines Board sets the rate every year. Though improvements to a building known as capital improvements are also used to raise the rent on a given building as long as a landlord receives a certificate of no harassment. But under no circumstance can a resident of a rent-regulated building be arbitrarily charged a higher rent. Landlords also are not able to refuse the signing of a lease for a given tenant.
One of the most frequent and frightening situations that a tenant can themselves in is being taken to housing by a landlord who wishes to remove them from their unit. Management usually wishes to gain control of the unit(s) in order to take advantage of what is called "Vacancy Decontrol," (this law allows a building owner to take an apartment off the rent regulated market once the rent hikes allotted by the Rent Guidelines Board reaches $2000 dollars while the unit is empty), or is seeking to obtain a certificate of no harassment which is essential if the building owner is looking to convert his or her building's CoFo (certificate of occupancy.) In other cases, the management company maybe looking to convert their apartments into illegal hotels, the use of residential buildings for commercial transient stay operations. History shows that the elderly and new immigrants are often the most targeted since these two populations tend not to make waves and are usually easily cowed with the threat of housing court. With the case of undocumented immigrants, a simple verbal eviction is usually enough to scare the tenant of their home. Not to worry however, one can possible free representation from some key agencies from around the city. For many of the city’s working class, the price of a lawyer and frequent trips housing court has been enough to drive them from their homes. However, what some New Yorkers are starting to learn is that a landlord’s worst nightmare is an educated tenant.
The good news is that rent regulated tenants cannot be thrown out into the streets without just cause and due process and in most cases are free to stay as long as they pay their rent. When it comes to SRO law, one’s immigration status can’t be used against them legally and like any other tenant has the right not to be evicted from their unit if they are paying their rent. And for those who cannot afford to pay for their own council there are agencies one can visit to get free legal help. If you live in an SRO (Single Room Occupancy), the SRO Law Project located at 51 W 109th St New York, NY 10025 employees lawyers who know the ins and outs of the laws governing this form of housing. One can also find organizers there to help organize a building, which would include the forming of a steering board to represent tenants in these quickly vanishing buildings. For other West Siders, The Housing Conservation Coordinators maybe your best bet. They are located at 777 Tenth Avenue located between 51st and 52nd street. Here one can find free council and while receiving a first class education on their rights. This group also is constantly up to date on the activities of other housing groups. If you live on the East Side MFY Legal Services located at 299 Broadway, New York, NY10007. This group works with other organizations in order t provide free legal services.
It has become a fairly common news that illegal hotels is big business for some building owners around the city, years after the media had decided to largely ignore the issue. It was the work of lawmakers such as Tom Duane, Gale Brewer, Liz Kruger, and Linda Rosenthal along with housing activists from the community group, The Westside Neighborhood Alliance that has forced the problem into the limelight. After 6 years of rallies, Town Meetings and the formation of (OSE) The Office of Special Enforcement, the movement to stop the problem seems to have scored a clear and decisive victory over this past summer with the passing of A.10008/S.6873 which strengthens the wording of the state’s Multiple Dwelling Law which was first put in place in 1929. The new legislation essentially closes the loopholes, which have allowed landlords to argue that there was no clear-cut rule that prohibited the practice of using transient hotels in residential buildings as long as the less than 50% of the building(s) was being used for this purpose. The law clearly states the difference of a residential (class A) building and a legal commercial hotel (class B).
The largest perpetrators of this practice have pointed to a section of zoning law stating for residential areas must be used primarily for residential uses. This wording seemed to make some think that this line opened the door to partial business use. And as to be expected many landlords took things further over the past three decades by buying rent regulated buildings and clearing them out of their tenants. In fact Hell’s Kitchen has become a hotbed within the illegal hotel, as has the Upper Westside of Manhattan. The names centering on the issue come as no surprise for those who have been on the frontline of the fight. This new law does not go into affect until May 1st however which has put many within the housing community on their guard. Tenants who are dealing with this problem are still being urged to call 311 and file a complaint. It has been noted that a paper trail prevents a landlord from denying that such an operation is occurring in their building. Also, early complaints maybe more valuable after the law goes into effect.
Despite claims by the real estate board, the law does not prohibit the subletting of apartments, subletting one’s apartment for 30 days or longer does not violate the Multiple Dwelling Law and is not subject to change. However, coop and condo boards still have the right to restrict sublets in their given building. A tenant can also rent out a room to a friend(s) or tourists as long the tenant him or herself are in the apartment.
A related fear has been that the legislation would put an end to tenants renting out their rooms while they are on vacation. Technically this practice has been illegal since 1929 but the city has often looked past it. There is no recognized example of the city going after tenants for this practice. The new law is meant to only go after landlords who rent out units to tourists and corporate housing for less than 30 days. OSE (office of special enforcement) which oversees the enforcement of this and other housing laws normally only put their focus on the major offenders when it comes to the illegal hotels issue.
SRO tenants who are over charged with their rents have been known to pay as much as three times the legal or registered rent for a given room. A room that should cost only $400 dollars has been known to be rented out for as much as $1,3000 dollars a month. If a tenant does expect that they are being over charged, they can go to the DHCR located at 25 Beaver Street New York, New York 10004 and get a readout of the rent history on the room, long with a copy of the legal rent. The renter can later file an overcharge against the landlord/management in order to get a refund or have the difference be used against future rent charges. In many cases management has been known to challenge these claims and have even taken tenants to the court in an effort to get a judge to issue a dismissal of the case. The SRO Law Project may officer assistance in these cases.
Until next time...