The gist of the article is this; if your apartment is rent stabilized, you absolutely must know your rent history. Why? Because your landlord would love to remove your apartment from the rent stabilization system, which happens to approximately 20,000 apartments per year.
There are several ways to remove an apartment from the rent stabilization system, but probably the most common is when rents go over $2,500 per year, the landlord can apply to have it removed. There are a number of restrictions on the landlord and protections for the tenant, but essentially, landlords have a very large bonus waiting for them if they can get the rent up over $2,500 per month. The bonus is removal of the apartment from the rent stabilization system.
Every time the apartment is re-rented to a new tenant, the landlord is allowed certain rent increases. There is the hefty “vacancy allowance” in addition to the next legal increase under the rent stabilization formula. All landlords are required to maintain a rental history of the apartment and submit their rent history to a city agency.
But suppose the landlord tries to cheat by inflating the rent more than he’s allowed to?
When that happens, and it’s not uncommon, you will be paying a higher than legal rent, month after month. There are penalties to the landlord if the rent is discovered to have been illegally raised, not to mention a possibly substantial refund of the overcharges that would come back to you.
So how do you find out your rent history? Simple. Call (718) 739-6400. You’ll go through a short automated menu, and then you’ll speak to an operator. Ask for your full rent history, back to 1984. The operator will ask for your name and address and that’s it. In a few days, you’ll receive your rent history in the mail.
Some management companies specialize is prepping buildings for sale. One way to do this is preferred rents. A stabilized apartment for $1600/month may be offered to let at $1,200/month. A great deal right? Aren’t they nice! Except that this preferred rent may be recinded and then a tenant is left with not only the rent increase designated by the rent Guidelines Board (RGB), but the $400 difference.
When a tenant in a rent stabilized unit moves out, the landlord is entitled to a 20% vacancy increase. It behooves any managing agent to have a high turnover on stabilized apartments. In one paricular building on East 4th street, HALF the apartment were stealthily destabilized. Tenants were told it was a “stabilized building” and they never questioned the agents. When the building was sold to a real estate equity firm, unsuspecting tenants found themselves with doubled rents.
Get a copy of Tenants Rights’ Guide. It can be downloaded or you can get a printed version at the Cooper Square Committee. To download a copy go here.
EV Grieve lists several organizations that can help you if you have any questions about your lease or how to recover rent overcharges. Here’s their list:
Cooper Square Committee (You can pick up a Tenants’ Rights Guide here)
61 East 4th Street
Metropolitan Council on Housing
339 Lafayette Street, #301
212-979-0611 (hotline Mon-Wed-Fri 1:30 to 5 p.m.)
University Settlement (Project Home)
184 Eldridge Street (at Rivington Street)
I would add on one more source of excellent information on what to do: Tenant.net