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Loft Law protection question

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Loft Law protection question

Postby ronkototo » Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:34 pm

Hello,

I have been living in a warehouse building for 8 years as a subtenant with no lease. 1.5 years ago, the lease holder left, owing the landlord $20,000. I remained in my unit, but the landlord wanted to raise the rent by $500. I aksed him to renovate first, but he said no renovations, I can pay the increase or move out. I went to a lawyer and he put us on rent strike saying that the building had no Certificate of Occupancy for residential tenants, no fire escapes and other violations. There are 80 residential tenants that have been living in this building since the 1980's. When I went on rent strike from the advice of my lawyer, the gas was shut off. Turned out the lease holder that left did not pay the utilities. So I went and paid the utilities and when the gas company came to turn on the gas, they found that the pipes and ventilation had been installed improperly and I have had carbon monoxide leaking into the apartment for 3 years atleast. I told the landlord this and he refused to fix it. I took the landlord to court, and HPD ruled in my favor and told the landlord that he would have to fix the gas situation. He sent an unlicensed repair guy to fix the pipes for my neighbors, but I decided just to use electric heaters since I didn't trust their work would be done correctly. Since then I have wanted to pay rent and spoke to the landlord. The rent strike didn't seem right to me. However, the rate I was paying before was $1650 to the old lease holder, which included gas, electric, internet, repairs, new boiler, real estate taxes, and general maintenance of the unit. I had a roommate before to help me with the rent, but because now I know the unit is not a legal residential unit, I did not want to be liable to the roommate just in case something was installed in a faulty way. My old roommate moved out when the gas got shut off initially and there was evidence of carbon monoxide poisoning. Now I want to pay the landlord $1000 rent, even though my lawyer advised against it. I want to pay him even without a lease, since I do not want to sign a commercial lease since that is the only one the landlord is willing to give me. The reason for the $1000 is because that is how much my neighbor has been paying him, since it was revealed to us that all of the units need a lot of work done to bring them up to code. I recently spent $3000 to fix the bathroom and install new electrical fixtures. I have been paying for the electrical, internet and all of the repairs myself since I went on rent strike.

A few weeks ago, some tenants in the building approached me and said that they were applying for loft law protection and wanted me to join. I asked my lawyer if I am eligible to apply for loft law protection (I have been living here from 2008-2010 also), even if I am on rent strike. He said to go ahead and apply.

So here are my questions:
Can the landlord sue me for all of the back rent from 1.5 years ago if I apply for loft law protection? My lawyer says no since he does not have the right to collect rent if he knowlingly has 80 residential tenants living here and has no residential certificate of occupancy.

If I start paying the landlord $1000 rent, then does that become my rental rate if the landlord cashes my check? Would this rate apply to the loft law protection or the $1650? Since the $1650 is what I was paying with all of the utilities, internet and repairs included, since I just made 1 check out to the old lease holder for that amount, I do not want that to be my new rent rate. Then when the landlord renovates, it will make my rent almost $2000, plus I would need to pay utilities and internet on top of that. My unit is a small 600sq ft One bedroom that is not worth $2000. So I am not sure how the loft law would protect me. If I do not sign a lease and just start paying $1000 rent to the landlord, I can deal with that rate, because that is how much the old lease holder was paying for my space.

How can the landlord retaliate if I apply for loft law protection? Is it worth t for me to apply or should I just wait until he gets a Certificate of Occupancy and then wait for my lawyer to go to court then?

Even the $1000 rent is a bit much for me since I cannot have a roommate until the unit is renovated and brought up to code. My neighbor was paying the landlord $550 for a 1200sqft space that was not renovated and had all sorts of violations in it also. If am going to be paying rent by myself, then can I pay $550 like him to the landlord until I am able to have a roommate and pay more?

At this point the landlord said he is wiling to take any amount of rent from me and is happy that I dont want to be on rent strike and want to resolve this situation somehow. Should I just follow the advice of my lawyer and not continue to pay rent and be on rent strike?

Thank you for your time!
ronkototo
 
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Postby TenantNet » Thu Jun 30, 2011 6:29 am

It seems you're a Nervous Nellie. I've seen many tenants who, like you, get nervous as the rent in escrow piles up, thinking in the end they will owe the LL a great deal. Keep it in escrow so if you do owe it, you will have it.

Some tenant lawyers are better than others when it comes to issues like the Loft Laws. Make sure your attorney is a good tenant attorney, not just someone who practices primary some other branch of law. Make sure he's a tenant lawyer with experience in loft issues.

Seem you're undermining yourself ... and possibly the other tenants.
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Postby queensborough » Thu Jun 30, 2011 8:11 am

I didn't see where the tenant mentioned an escrow account for the rent. Did I miss that?
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Postby TenantNet » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:46 am

No, and that's the point. The LL will keep billing -- whether it's correct or not -- to intimidate the tenant. The tenant gets nervous because the contested rent is not in escrow.
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Postby queensborough » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:11 pm

Wouldn't the tenant's lawyer have advised the tenant to place the rent in escrow?
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Postby ronkototo » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:43 pm

Thank you for your responses :). I do have the money in escrow, but I have never been on rent strike, so this concept is hard for me to grasp. My attorney specializes in landlord tenant disputes and he won in court against him when LL would not take responsibility to fix the gas pipes. The LL has been trying to make a deal with me on the side and telling me not to use my attorney because attorneys just want to make money. So far, the attorney has been very good about advocating me, and ha not done me wrong and ha still been giving me advice based even though I signed a retainer with him 1.5 years ago, and he didn't charge us to go to court, he just used the retainer money. Nervous Nellie.. haha.. you are definitely right there, and it is hard to see the rational side when I am actually in the situation.

So what do you advise?

Don't pay rent and just apply for loft law protection? Or pay some amount in rent, and wait to see what happens with the loft law?

I am worried about the rate since I don't want to liable for owing same rent I did when I had my bf living here and a roommate. No one else living here wanted to deal with the situation so I am the only one left in my unit that wants to endure and see what happens. This is why I thought of paying $550 since that is what the single tenant neighbor of mine was paying the LL when he was in the same situation. He moved out after 3 months when all of this started.

Pardon my nervousness, but my perspective is not as clear as it could be since I am actually in this situation that seems confusing. Since you can see this situation objectively, and may know some laws or insight on how these situations were resolved in the past, please shed some light :)

Thank you
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Postby TenantNet » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:51 pm

"you are definitely right there, and it is hard to see the rational side when I am actually in the situation."

I'm a tenant just like you, and I have been that situation. I had a huge sum in escrow and the case went on for many years. I know the uneasiness and uncertainty. But you can't undermine yourself. No atty is 100% correct all the time, but don't ignore him just because you're nervous.

I don't know all the facts so I can't tell you to pay rent or not. Your lawyer, who presumably does know all the facts, can give you a better answer knowing all the implications.
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