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Illegal basement apartment

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Illegal basement apartment

Postby crnhunter » Tue Nov 22, 2016 12:53 pm

Hello. I'm currently residing in an illegal basement. There was an inspection note left by NYC city buildings. My landlord told me they will help me relocate temporarily so they can transform the basement back into its original purpose and build a thin wall to hide the entrance of the bathroom, take out the stove, and remove the sink etc. They assured me that they will have me back. After I told him the only way I move out will be if they help me financially, they said they won't be paying me anything. Instead they told me they would wait for another month and hope inspectors won't come during this time. What can I do? Should I keep paying rent? I have been living there for 1.5 years now and have been paying my rent in cash on time.
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Re: Illegal basement apartment

Postby TenantNet » Tue Nov 22, 2016 5:00 pm

First, never pay by cash. Never Ever!!!

Always pay by check or Money Order as they will create a paper trail in case the LL wants to claim you haven't paid back rent. Always make a copy of what you send the LL and it's a good idea to send certified or with a Certificate of Mailing (the latter is not as expensive).

Some owners want cash, and be paid in person. Resist that. Pay with a check/MO and by mail. They are legal tender and the LL can't legally refuse that. (although they might try)

This situation smells of trouble coming.

There are reasons why basement units are illegal, mostly having to do with safety reasons.

The law on paying rent in such units tends to vary and can change. But see the section in the forum's reference section on this:
viewtopic.php?f=15&t=12150

Chances are that the unit is not registered with HPD (you don't say how many units there are in the building), but failure to register with HPD can get a case dismissed in court. In general, any building with 3+ units has to register with HPD. Same is true if the building has less than 3 units and the LL does not live in the building.

All this can get tricky and will depend on factors unique to your situation. I would consult with a tenant attorney to get a better answer on the a) illegal unit and b) lack of registration.

Depending where you are and your income, there are legal clinics around town where you can find attorneys ... or there are attorneys who advertise on this site.

As for relocation, NEVER agree to relocate without a good tenant attorney negotiating the terms of your return and financial assistance.

It sounds like this LL wants to evade the law and deceive both HPD and DOB. I would not help him. Are there units in the building not in the basement? Yes, an inspection might result in a violation where you will have to leave, but it can also prevent this LL from further scams.

As for paying rent - even with a check or money order - withholding rent is a two-edge sword. While it can give you leverage in court, then that means you will be dragged into court. And the LL might feel like they can engage in an illegal eviction (see the reference section on how to deal with that).

If you can consult with a tenant attorney, try to see how withholding rent might help or hurt. If you do withhold, then hold it in escrow. DO NOT spend it.
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