Can My New York Landlord Raise My Rent as Much as He Wants?
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Can My New York Landlord Raise My Rent as Much as He Wants?

Hanson O'Haver
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We’ve all heard the sob stories: A friend gets an amazing deal on an apartment. Picture the last affordable studio in the West Village, or the cheapest pet-friendly two-bedroom in Prospect Heights.

At first, everything’s perfect. The utilities all function, the super is helpful, and the neighbors are friendly. The apartment becomes a home, a place where they could actually see themselves living an adult life. Then one year the landlord decides to raise the rent — and not just by one or two percent, but by hundreds of dollars.

Just like that, it all comes crashing down.

The normal reaction to this is one of horror, followed by the sinking realization that you could be next: “Can my landlord really just raise my rent as much as he wants?" Sadly, in many cases, the answer is yes.

Rent stabilization is your only friend

Unless you live in a building with some form of rent regulation, your landlord is free to raise rent as high as he’d like. New York has the nation’s most prominent rent regulation program. Here there are two types of regulated apartments:

Rent controlled

These have a maximum rent amount and are very rare. It’s very unlikely that you’re living in a rent controlled apartment; according to the Tenant’s Rights Guide, in order for an apartment to be under rent control, the tenant or their direct relative must have been living there continuously since before July 1, 1971. Because of this, most rent-controlled apartments have been deregulated.

Rent stabilized

These have maximum yearly increases. The NYC Rent Guidelines Board votes yearly to decide the maximum amount that stabilized rents may increase. For the last two years, the board has voted for a rent freeze. If you’re in the market for a new place, you’ll be pleased to know that finding a rent stabilized apartment isn’t that hard.

A little over one million New York City apartments are rent stabilized, so you very well may be living in one and not know it. Sketchy landlords have been found to take advantage this confusion, collecting the tax benefits that come with rent stabilization while still increasing their tenants’ rents.

To find out if your apartment is rent stabilized go take a look at your lease and see if you signed a rent stabilized rider like this one. You can also look through this list of stabilized buildings signed by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.

If you aren’t stabilized, you can get stabilized

If you’re in an unregulated apartment and find yourself with an astronomically increasing rent, what can you do?

Meet the loft law

If you’ve been living in a loft that’s not zoned for residential use, you may qualify for rent stabilization (and legalization) under the Loft Law. This means that you can't be charged increases for improvements that you made to your unit, and that the rent cannot increase until the building is brought up to code. Your building is subject to the law if:

  • Someone applied for it before March 11, 2014
  • It doesn't have a residential certificate of occupancy (AKA - it's not residential)
  • The building was used in the past for manufacturing, commercial or warehousing purposes and there were three or more residential tenants living in separate apartments in the building in the twenty-month period between April 1, 1980, and December 1, 1981
  • There were three or more residential tenants living in separate apartments in the building for a consecutive 12 month period between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009.

The chances that you can claim stabilization rights under the loft law are pretty low, but there are still many converted factories in New York that could be subject to the loft law. Ask around in places like Bushwick - people here are still living in buildings that aren't zoned for residential.

Negotiation

Otherwise, assuming the landlord has given proper notice and the building is up to code, you don’t have much legal recourse. That being said, you can always take your case to your landlord. It sounds crazy, but it just might work. I spoke to Samuel Himmelstein, a tenants’ rights lawyer, who told me that, while he doesn’t have “magic insights” into getting your landlord to keep your rent down:

“it’s like any other kind of negotiation.” Don’t hire a lawyer; he says that, “hiring a lawyer for residential lease negotiation is usually the kiss of death because landlords don’t like lawyers.”

Instead, he recommends that you “go to them with some facts and figures. Show them that what they’re asking really is beyond the market. Go to them and say, ‘Look, you’re asking me to pay $2500, I can get a one-bedroom down the block for $2100.’” Be sure to explain that you’ve been a good tenant and always pay your rent on time. If you can, offer to pay months in advance or to sign a longer lease in exchange for keeping the price down.

Your landlord may have decided to do a blanket percentage increase on all apartments, and might be willing to cut you a deal. Good tenants are hard to find. Plus, if your apartment sits empty while they try to find a tenant willing to pay the higher rent, your landlord could lose money.

More questions about your rights and rent increases? Head over to our Knowledge Base!

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