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Illegal Residential Lease in Commercial Loft

Posted by Dave Roberts on February 20, 2001 at 08:39:36:

I am interested in knowing what rights I have, if any, with the current rent situation I have.

Two years ago I answered an an in the Village Voice about midtown lofts "for work/live". It turned out to be a direct line to the owner, now my landlord, who is illegally and willingly renting commercially zoned loft spaces (1400sf +) to residential tenants. There are 10 units in the building and he has half of them rented to residential tenants. The units are big, albeit on the dark side, with lots of unusual space for Manhattan. He has installed bathrooms and kitchens in every unit and warns the tenants ahead of time if there is a fire inspection, etc.

This sounds great but is actually becoming a living nightmare. Once I moved in I quickly realized that the landlord is a slum lord who uses the illegal situation to avoid any expense to himself and responsibility at all to his tenants. During the winter months the radiator pipes knock so hard they shake plaster out of the ceiling. Water leaks happen all the time. The noise level in midtown can be deafening. The electricity was never rewired and is probably still adhering to 1928 building codes. (I have actually seen cloth-insulated wires in light fixtures). The elevator was installed when Taft was president. Blah blah.... anyway:

Among the questionably legal things going on are:
1. "Additional Rent" fees at the landlord's discretion, in which all tenants are billed for everything from trash pickup, to building fire insurance increases, to sprinkler maintenance, general sweeping of the common areas, water and sewage, etc. Tenants are supposedly charged a "reasonable percentage" of the total bill. Recently we tenants got together and added up the portions of the stuff he is billing us for and discovered that he is making a 60% profit (over his expense) on these bills.
2. All building repairs generally go undone unless they present an immediate emergency. Eventually when the landlord sends someone, all electrical, plumbing, contracting etc. are done with unlicensed, unregistered and unskilled illegal migrant workers who speak no English. This wouldnt matter except that nothing stays fixed for long, if at all.
3. Security deposits amounted to 3 months rent which the landlord claims he is not required by law to hold in escrow and return with interest. He also put this in a rider to the lease.
4. The building elevator can not be up to date on inspection. Sometimes it stops between floors, or doesnt work at all.
5. The landlord has NEVER had the building exterminated for rats, roaches, etc. which are not necessarily a problem but are seen on occasion.

I am planning to break my lease and suspect that my landlord will give me a problem or try to keep my security deposit. I am interested in knowing if I have any leverage in this situation, mainly:
1. Is my security deposit supposed to be returned with interest?
2. Do I have any eviction rights? Meaning, if I simply stop paying my rent, how long before he can have me legally removed?
3. Does NYC even care that this landlord is renting commercial units to residential tenants?

Any help with my situation would be greatly appreciated. Even a point towards a direction or a list of commercial tenant rights would be very useful.


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