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Should I get a lawyer or try negotiating myself?

Posted by Laura on October 20, 1999 at 13:33:15:

I recently discovered at the DHCR office that I am being overcharged for rent and that my landlord is trying to increase my rent by more than the legal amount set for rent-stabilized apartments. I think probably the best way to negotiate with my landlord is with the help of an attorney, but am wondering if I am over-reacting (It's not a huge $50,000 claim and could, in my opinion, be handled out of court) and if I could get quicker results by trying to work things out with the landlord directly. Will the landlord see me, alone as a tenant, as no real threat or will he see me, with my attorney, as an all out declaration of war?

I'm including a list of the facts about my "case" to explain the situation a little better. If you have a moment, please review them and let me know if you think it will be necessary to hire a lawyer. Thanks.

The facts:
* Our apartment lease began January 1, 1999.
* Our rent is $1725/month.
* Thurcon Properties manages our building.
* I asked Thurcon about renewing the lease 2 times and each time they told me that a form would be sent to me automatically 3 months before the end of the lease. When I didn't get the form I called again and was told that it should have been sent, but they'll send it again. I asked just out of curiosity what the new rent would be and they told me there would be a %12 increase. (I have since received the new lease and it does include a 12% increase)
* I thought %12 was really high, especially since I thought our building was rent stabilized. I went to DHCR and got the rent history of our apartment for the last 15 years. It is indeed rent stabilized, which means the legal increase for one year is 2% and for two years 4%.
* I thought maybe some Major Capital Improvements were scheduled for our apartment and that our landlord just hadn't told us about it and that that
was the reason for the high increase. I asked the DHCR about this and was told that there is no record of an MCI for our apartment and that the %12
increase is illegal.
* The man at DHCR then looked further in the file and saw that a previous tenant (2 tenants before us) had complained about leak stains in the living
room in the spring of 1994. The landlord was then ordered to reduce the rent to the previous rent and was not allowed to increase the rent again until he/she got permission from the DHCR . The DHCR never gave the landlord an order to restore the rent.
* In the spring of 1994 the registered rent was $1344. Starting June 1, 1994 it was reduced to $1262. (The tenant who complained and the tenant
after her were paying $200-$300 less than the registered rent.)
* According to the man at DHCR, even though the landlord raised the rent, it should still be $1262. If that is the case, then we have been paying
$463/month too much. $463 x 12 months is $5556.
* Additionally, the man at DHCR said that if we really wanted, we could push for a penalty charge, because the landlord willfully overcharged us.
Which means the $5556 would be multiplied by 3, which is $16,668.

Of course, the idea of getting $16,000 is very appealing, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. It all sounds too good to be true. Having our rent reduced in the future would be great and getting paid back for overcharged rent would be fabulous. I'd also be interested in getting some of our security deposit back (we paid 2 months rent, plus the last month of rent) since I think we were overcharged there too, but I don't know if there's any chance of that.

Well, those are the facts. I would appreciate any feedback you could offer.

P.S. The landlord did allow tenants (the one who complained and the one after her) to pay less than the posted legal rent. Here's a history of the rent from the time of the complaint to the present
98-99: rent $1725
97-98: legal rent $1625.35, actual paid rent $1377
96-97: legal rent $1593.48, actual paid rent $1350
94-96: legal rent $1397.79, actual paid rent $1107.60
92-94: legal rent $1344, actual paid rent$1000.00

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