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Rent increase over 30% -- help!

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Rent increase over 30% -- help!

Postby super tenant » Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:41 pm

I hope that someone can help me and my neighbors on this!

We live in a non-rent stabilized brownstone (5 units). It was bought a few weeks ago by an LLC (which we now know are investors from Argentina).

The brownstone was renovated 8 years ago, and definitely not sound-proof. We've all gotten along well as we're all professionals and there is little/no drama.

After speaking with the new "property manager" (who's English isn't great) and trying to negotiate lease terms, myself and a neighbor were given 30 days notice to vacate. Two of the other units (garden level and top floor) will be vacant by the end of this month. Our ex-landlord is in the garden unit and the top unit resident tried to negotiate with the broker only to be shut down. Of course, the broker made a nice commission on the sale of the building (her first sale) and now it's in her best interest to get the remaining three tenants out as she will get 15% commission on the annual rent.

As we lived in the building with our (now) ex-landord, we paid the rent and didn't pay attention to leases. For the three of us that are left, only one has a lease that expires at the end of August.

The real estate broker has been VERY aggressive in showing our units. I've been told to allow "reasonable" access -- meaning once a week.

It's very difficult to find an apartment in such a short time period for both me and my neighbor.

Does anyone have any advice or any recourse?

Thanks!
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Postby TenantNet » Fri Jul 19, 2013 9:33 pm

No such thing as a "non-rent stabilized brownstone," just as there is no such thing as a "rent stabilized brownstone."

UNITS are regulated (or not), not buildings.

In your case, because there are less than six units, none of the units are eligible to be rent regulated ... unless two or more units were combined at some point.

In the age of Bloomberg and Quinn, many foreign nationals purchase buildings and often know nothing about how to run buildings in NYC. Hopefully they have hired experienced managers.

Since you are unregulated, your rights depend on a lease. If you have no lease, or if it has expired. then your right are limited. The LL is under no obligation to give you a new lease (unless it was stated in the expiring lease).

For showing, see the access rules in the Forum's reference section. Once a week is not unreasonable as long as they give notice, in writing. You can offer alternate times and dates, and negotiate. You can also demand that you be there to watch your stuff. It's still your apartment.

You say the old LL still lives in he building. Is he willing to be helpful? Is there any evidence that at one time there were six units? If so, you could make a complaint with DHCR claiming you have a right to be regulated ... and to have a lease.

Even if you lease expires, you can still hold over past the expiration. It's up to the LL to take you to court, or not. That's where you might have some leverage in negotiating a period of time to stay there while looking for a new unit. You can also get legal advice from an attorney.

Do you know what the new LL wants to do? If you're willing to pay the new rent, which is unregulated, why don't they just sign a new lease with you?
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Postby super tenant » Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:41 am

The problem is that the new owners want to raise the rents over 30%. They have offered new leases to be signed immediately. Our LL is vacating by the end of the month. Another neighbor, after trying to negotiate with them, is leaving end of July/early August. Myself and a neighbor are looking for new places. The lone tenant left has a lease that expires 8/31.

The property manager is NOT experienced. He's a relative of one of the investors. In fact, we were emailed very poorly written communications stating that we have 30 days to vacate. And, if we refuse to allow the broker access to show the apartments, they will proceed with legal action NOW (I cleaned up the language, but he caps are theirs). It seems they're under the impression that they just have to collect rent checks and have hired a broker to rent the apartments. She's a total shark telling them they can get astronomical rents. Of course, none of the soon to be vacant units have rented. But, she'll get her 15% commission if/when they do (even if they don't get asking price). So, it's obviously in her best interest to get us out.

I'm fairly certain they cannot begin any legal action unless and until the 30 days is up, which would be August 31st. They also hold two months' security deposit.

It seems to be the best solution is to move. But, it's not easy finding a place right now in this real estate market. What happens if any of us stay beyond the 30 days? I really don't want to be litigious, but they seem hell bent on getting their way.
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Postby TenantNet » Sat Jul 20, 2013 11:31 am

I understand the problem. But as long as you are not regulated the LL can quadruple the rent. You can buy some time, you can negotiate, you can litigate (if you know what you are doing or have a lawyer), but in the end the LL can get you out.

Check your lease, there might be some language as to how notices are to be sent to you. Generally emails are not the same thing. But a court could see different. But once you get to court, you likely will have some extra time as the litigation goes on.

Same thing for access. Get to know the rules.

A lawyer can help you with time and litigation, but eventually they will get you out. If you want to fight, then be prepared to fight.

As for the deposit, if you think they are unlikely to return it,. some tenants don't pay the last month's rent in order to recover the deposit. Technically that's not legal (according to most leases), but it can be done.
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Postby super tenant » Sat Jul 20, 2013 7:47 pm

Thanks for the advice!

As I stated before, we all have two months' security deposit so it seems the best option is to use it for rent (even if they will still have another month, that should be returned). I will take a ton of pictures before and after moving :)

A few other questions: Where would we go and what do we have to bring to see if the units were rent stabilized/controlled at some point? Also, in going through the reference section, the only entries for access rules were for repairs. I've played nice with the broker who wants to show my unit. I couldn't give access today because I wouldn't be home (and I have a dog). She initially requested access for tomorrow (Sunday) at 1 PM, but I said I have an appointment with my broker at 1:30 PM, but would probably be home by 6 PM. She emailed me to ask if I should be present because of my dog. I said I absolutely need to be there. I expect since she emailed Friday afternoon (and called last night, but it went to voicemail) and asked for weekend access that they'll probably jump the gun and say I'm not being "reasonable", even though I did respond. And I did say I should be home by 6 PM on Sunday. So, should I email back and say that she can show the place any weekday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 PM? Or, should I wait for her to come back to me? Of course, I want to be "reasonable."

Also, my neighbor has a son who is in school in the neighborhood. Her 30 day notice ends 9/15. After reading many of the posts here, it sounds like she could request a voluntary extension due to not disrupting her son's studies. I'm sure the new owners will deny it and commence a holdover proceeding. If she goes to court and says that she requested a voluntary extension and they denied it, will a judge look favorably upon her and her situation?

P.S. I'm meeting with my broker because I'm looking to buy something. If I do find something soon and the offer is accepted, I understand it can take time to close on deal. If the new owners commence a holdover proceeding, can I bring documentation showing I am closing on a place? I'm assuming a reasonable judge would state that she's leaving anyway so not sure why you're filing this and it would be a nuisance. I really can't see moving into a a short term rental only to move again once the deal closes.

P.P.S. Our old landlord is more than willing to give reference letters stating how are units were keep in great condition, rent was always paid on time, etc. He even offered me assistance for a bridge loan should I need it. I've never not gotten my security deposit back, so it's distressing.

As always, any and all advice is appreciated :)
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Reasonable Access

Postby super renter » Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:36 pm

So, I was having problems logging back in probably because I used a really old email address.

As for reasonable access, I sent the broker an amicable email saying that I can make my apartment available for a two hour window any weekday evening provided that I receive 24 hours written notice. The broker had an appointment this evening, but the prospective tenant cancelled. Now, the broker tells me that it's a '"courtesy" of 24 hours notice and wants to show my apartment tomorrow evening. The broker is also trying to tell me that I should "cooperate and be "flexible" because time is limited - and that if I am home, I need to make my place available. First, I believe legally they must provide 24 hours written notice. Second, reasonable access is once a week from what I've been reading. Since I provided access and they didn't show, I think I can still be reasonable and deny access for the rest of the week. After all, I do have to work and look for a new place with my broker.

Am I on solid legal ground?
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Postby TenantNet » Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:10 pm

First, make sure no one else has your keys. Second, make sure you are there to monitor anyone coming into your apartment. You also have a right to photograph or video anyone coming into your apartment.

Next, understand your obligation to provide access is described here:
http://tenant.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=4837 and also see http://tenant.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=7789

Your obligation is for landlord access, not broker access. The LL should give you notice and you should reply to the LL. The LL can arrange for a broker to come in, but you should deal with the LL, not someone with whom you have no contractual obligation and who may not be responsible for anything that might occur ... damages, injuries, etc.

Some times you need to clamp down on these people who are trying to take advantage. If you are strict, perhaps they will learn. You can also ask the broker for a copy of the law that give him the right to such access?

I think you would be on solid ground. But consider the context. Would they take you to housing court at this time demanding your eviction for lack of access - if you're moving anyway in the near future?
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Postby super renter » Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:47 pm

Thanks. I've read the other posts you linked.

The owner's agent has requested that I give access to the broker. I said sure, we can work out an amicable time, which I provided. Through our communications I said I need 24 hours notice and that I need to be there since I don't want strangers walking through my place without supervision (and I have a dog). Now the broker wants to work on her schedule -- not that I care about that. I've demonstrated being reasonable and amicable. It wasn't me who cancelled at the last minute.

As for the context, they are the new (overseas) owners and I'm a month to month tenant as my lease has expired. After cashing my rent check for July, they gave me a 30 day notice to sign a new lease or vacate by 8/31. I do plan on being out by the end of August, but am actively looking for a place (which is time consuming in this market, plus I work full time). The owner's agent is being cc'd on all emails (at my doing). I think the broker is trying to play hardball to prove that she's relentless in getting the units rented. So, the short answer is yes, I plan on moving in the near future. I'm not sure what's going on with the owners, but I wouldn't put it past them to try and take me to housing court (at the urging of the broker). But, but that time, I will have moved :)

Can they bring me to housing court for lack of access? I'm a professional with outstanding credit and working in good faith for access. I just don't think that same day access is reasonable (or legal). I'm definitely not looking to hunker down and stay here.

I'm thinking that I should respond tomorrow morning and cc her boss saying that I have been amicable and reasonable in working out viewing times. Legally, they are required to give 24 hours written notice and reasonable access is once a week. Just short, sweet and firm.

Your thoughts?
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Postby TenantNet » Thu Jul 25, 2013 9:25 pm

Can they bring you to Housing Court for lack of access? Yes. But only if you are still in the unit. First, it would make no sense, but more important, if you are no longer in possession, then Housing Court has no jurisdiction. If you owed rent, then they could come after you in Civil Court, but this would be about access, not rent.

Use your own judgement, but there's a word you can use with LLs and brokers: NO.
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Harassment

Postby super renter » Sun Aug 04, 2013 6:34 pm

This is absolutely crazy! So, after allowing access last Thursday, the broker emailed me and said I need to be "flexible and cooperative." I think I mentioned that before. So, the next morning, I emailed the broker, her boss and the the property manager saying that I am acting in good faith and providing reasonable access. I stated that I allowed access yesterday and access for today was declined (the broker wanted to show my apartment that evening). I also reiterated that if/when they would like to show my place, please provide me with 24 hours written notice and we can reach an agreeable time.

Two hours later I get an email from the broker (in poorly worded English -- English is not her first language) stating that 24 hours notice is a courtesy, not the law and if I could provide her with the law that states 24 hours written notice. Twenty minutes later I receive an email from the property manager (and not a native English speaker) stating, in essence, that he feels compelled to sue me, make me pay for everything, I'm unprofessional, and he wants to give me a taste of my own medicine. Yes, in an email! I perceived that as a threat.

That evening the broker showed up with clients even though I specifically stated that the unit would not be available for viewing. She called an hour later and left a voicemail asking when she would have access over the weekend. The following morning, she left another voicemail saying that I need to be reasonable and that her clients wants to get lawyers involved, court proceedings, etc. I have not responded to anything since the threatening email. I mean, really? After I tell you no access and the owner sends me a threatening email, you have the nerve to show up that evening with clients? And, keep harassing me with phone calls?

This week, I got an email from the property manager stating that, after speaking with their lawyers), if I do not give their broker access to show the apartment they will proceed to file a claim in NY Small Claims Court. Um, don't they have to prove damages for that?

Meanwhile, I have a full time job that I have to show up for and I need to look for a place in the evenings and/or on the weekends.

As crazy as all this drama is, the broker showed up a bit ago TOTALLY UNANNOUNCED with clients knocked on my door and asked if they could see my apartment. I said no and closed the door.

Sorry for the saga, but I really think these people are off their rockers! In addition, with the harassment and aggressiveness, I am truly afraid of what they may attempt to do to me or my dog (especially when I'm not here).

I have real estate broker friends who have suggested a file a complaint against the broker with the NY Real Estate Board since she must be licensed. They were surprised (but not shocked, as they've been in the business for many years). They said that the ethical procedure for brokers is to inform the owner that the tenant is not providing access and the owner needs to work that out with the tenant. The broker should say her hands are tied until she has access. Definitely not to harass the tenant into giving access - she has WAY overstepped her bounds.

Obviously this has been and continues to be very draining on me.

Any thoughts/advice?

P.S. A bit of good news! I saw a condo today being rented by the owner. I'm unsure about taking it because it's a bit of a hike to the subway and expressed my concerns about that to the owners. They just sent me an email a bit ago saying that they really like me and understand the location problem, but would lower the rent if I wanted to take it. Really nice people! It's good to know there are good people out there :)
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Postby TenantNet » Sun Aug 04, 2013 7:41 pm

You know what the law says (just make sure you've read the law, that it applies to non-regulated units, and you know what your lease says). IMO the law trumps the lease. What they are doing is harassment. Ask them to not contact you again, and that any request must come through the landlord. And when they play their games, ignore them.

They can't sue you, at least in the context of housing court, because they have no standing. The only person who can sue you in housing court is the LL. Yes, there is Civil and Supreme Court, but they are just blowing off steam.

Is the owner a corporation? If so, they can't sue in Small Claims Court. Again, in my opinion, it's just threats. I can't say that they will never do anything, but IMO it's unlikely, and even if they did, they won't get anywhere.

I have also heard from attorneys that the backlog in Small Claims Court is many months if one insists on a trial (as opposed to a mediation).

Does your lease say that all notices must be in writing? Many leases do say that, and I think that emails do not qualify as written notice.

Now, this is not advice, legal or not, but I would tell the clients that show up, "sorry for your troubles, but you're asking for trouble with these brokers who have subjected me to ongoing harassment." Find other brokers. But that's me (and I'm not suggesting you do that).

Yes, consider filing a complaint. I don't know if REBNY takes complaints, but you can call the Attorney General's office.
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