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Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

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Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby NYtenantnewb » Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:13 pm

I'm a first time renter and I moved into my current apt back in June. It's a house with a basement (cellar?) apartment. The landlord seemed nice, if a little distant, and the apartment seemed in decent shape. Paid broker's fee, the first month and security deposit.

A one year lease was signed and I was ready to move in July 1st. After doing a little research, turns out the apartment is probably illegal. I brought it up to the landlord and broker at the time who basically agreed and both stated "yeah, but everyone does it".

The house is on the DOB website listed as a legal 2 family, which there is the first floor and then second floor, and each have their own meter, with my apartment sharing first floor meter. No secondary egress, the apartment is pretty much 75% or more underground, so really it's more a cellar which apparently is illegal to rent. The windows are about 5' high (just under 5"), and only 1.5' x 2.5' in dimension. There is no CO on file as well.

The problem is that the issues of the apartment are becoming more evident the longer I stay here. The landlord, while nice, is sort of ineffectual and doesn't keep up with things. There were arcing electrical switches for the lights, no working outlets in the bathroom, noise issues with other tenants, etc. And I noticed that people seem to come and go here. The landlord just seems to care about getting people in and doesn't particularly screen them thoroughly.

Long story short: I'm basically considering that I may need to move out sooner than later. It's becoming uncomfortable here and potentially unsafe. I would like to get information on if the lease is even enforceable with an illegal apartment, can the landlord sue me or come after me if I decide to leave?

I currently pay in cash, which I understand is not ideal, but I do have him sign a receipt which I keep on record. I also have text messages of him coming to collect rent. I initially payed with zelle quick pay which has record of the initial transaction to the LL and broker.

Is there any guidance, or potential insight I can get to help me with this situation? I would consider speaking with someone like an attorney or city official, so long as it does't cost me an arm or a leg to do.
Last edited by NYtenantnewb on Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:37 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby TenantNet » Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:23 pm

Can you shorten this up somewhat, please? Just stick to the basic facts. If we need more information, we'll ask. The Forum rules suggest that you "make your post short, succinct and focused, not rambling."
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby NYtenantnewb » Thu Nov 01, 2018 5:02 pm

Is that sufficient now?
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby TenantNet » Thu Nov 01, 2018 5:54 pm

NYtenantnewb wrote:I'm a first time renter and I moved into my current apt back in June. It's a house with a basement (cellar?) apartment.


How many units? 2 or 3? It can make a difference re HPD registration and the ability of the LL to sue you.

See https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/owners/co ... perty.page
Registration required for 3 units, or 2 units, if the owner is not in residence. If required, but not registered, the LL can't maintain a proceeding in Housing Court due to jurisdictional requirements (but might be able to sue in Civil Court after you've moved out).

Is the apartment completely in the basement, or split with part on the first floor and part in the basement? Where is the bedroom and living room?

Do you know the difference between a cellar and a basement? Search the forum as we've explained it many times. There are legal consequences depending on which it is. Also see https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/owners/ba ... ellar.page
and https://www1.nyc.gov/site/buildings/renter/ota.page

NYtenantnewb wrote:... to the landlord and broker at the time who basically agreed and both stated "yeah, but everyone does it".


No, not everyone.

NYtenantnewb wrote:The house is on the DOB website listed as a legal 2 family, which there is the first floor and then second floor, and each have their own meter, with my apartment sharing first floor meter.


Have you checked the HPD website, at https://hpdonline.hpdnyc.org/HPDonline/ ... dress.aspx

Sharing meters is also illegal.

NYtenantnewb wrote:No secondary egress, the apartment is pretty much 75% or more underground, so really it's more a cellar which apparently is illegal to rent.


That depends. Sleeping rooms must be above grade.

NYtenantnewb wrote:There is no CO on file as well.


Not all buildings require a CofO.

NYtenantnewb wrote:The problem is that the issues of the apartment are becoming more evident the longer I stay here....


This is why I asked you to shorten things. All this has nothing to do with legality of the unit.

NYtenantnewb wrote:Long story short: I'm basically considering that I may need to move out sooner than later. It's becoming uncomfortable here and potentially unsafe. I would like to get information on if the lease is even enforceable with an illegal apartment, can the landlord sue me or come after me if I decide to leave?


You can move out anytime you wish. LLs can sue anyone anytime. You need to consider if they can win, or not. Document all the warranty of hab issues, and the LL's failure to make repairs.

The LL might claim you are responsible for the rent for the rest of the lease. That is what you should seek to avoid. If LL is amenable, get him to sign a release from further rent payments.

NYtenantnewb wrote:I currently pay in cash, which I understand is not ideal, but I do have him sign a receipt which I keep on record. I also have text messages of him coming to collect rent. I initially payed with zelle quick pay which has record of the initial transaction to the LL and broker.


Never ever pay in cash. Pay by check, money order or some other form that creates a record. LL's must accept all legal forms of payment.

NYtenantnewb wrote:Is there any guidance, or potential insight I can get to help me with this situation? I would consider speaking with someone like an attorney or city official, so long as it does't cost me an arm or a leg to do.


There are tenant attorneys that advertise here.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby NYtenantnewb » Thu Nov 01, 2018 6:40 pm

"How many units? 2 or 3? It can make a difference re HPD registration and the ability of the LL to sue you.

See https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/owners/co ... perty.page
Registration required for 3 units, or 2 units, if the owner is not in residence. If required, but not registered, the LL can't maintain a proceeding in Housing Court due to jurisdictional requirements (but might be able to sue in Civil Court after you've moved out).

Is the apartment completely in the basement, or split with part on the first floor and part in the basement? Where is the bedroom and living room?"


The HPD registration shows the following (omitted potential identifying info):

HPD# (omit) Active Range (omit) Block (omit) Lot (omit) CD (omit) CensusTract (omit) Stories 2 A Units 2 B Units 0 Ownership PVT Registration# 0 Class N/A

Have a hard time reading, but it's showing active and that there are 2 units? The LL does not live here.

As for it being in the basement, I use a side door entrance and go down stairs to the apartment. There is a door immediately as I enter to my left on the landing to enter the first floor apartment, but that's locked. All the rooms--living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, boiler room, meters-- are in the basement. The house is on a small hill and it's slopped down towards the street/curb, so I don't know then how much of its height can be said to be below curb level. The sleeping rooms are below grade where the house is situated.

As for the classification on the DOB, it's showing it as a B3-2 FAMILY DWELLING. Again, there's a first floor which is rented, and a second floor which is also rented. The meters have writing on them showing "2nd floor" and "1st floor and basement".

"You can move out anytime you wish. LLs can sue anyone anytime. You need to consider if they can win, or not. Document all the warranty of hab issues, and the LL's failure to make repairs.

The LL might claim you are responsible for the rent for the rest of the lease. That is what you should seek to avoid. If LL is amenable, get him to sign a release from further rent payments."


How would I go about getting a release? From an attorney or is there a boiler plate I can use?

"There are tenant attorneys that advertise here.


Is there a list/guide accessible for reputable attorneys here? I may like to speak with one just in case.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby TenantNet » Thu Nov 01, 2018 7:22 pm

On the HPD page, if the HPD# has a number and says Active, then it appears there's a valid registration. Without that (if it's required) the LL can't maintain a proceeding in housing court.

It says 2 stories, but also says there are 4 units total (2 A and 2 B). Can you explain the layout? How many units are there really? Where are they? Earlier you said 75% of the unit is below grade, but your last post sounds like 100%.

It does sound as if the bsmnt unit might be illegal, but only DOB can make that determination. Of course you can make a complaint, get a violation placed, and you might be required to leave. If you do it before you leave, then that might be a defense in a non-pay. The LL can't claim rent for an illegal unit. He must make it legal or discontinue its use. (and there are good safety reasons why basement units are illegal).

For the DOB classification see https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/finance/jum ... gcode.html

Contact Coned regarding the shared meters. That might also be illegal.

A release is a waiver on the part of the LL. I don't know of any boiler plates.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby NYtenantnewb » Fri Nov 02, 2018 1:39 pm

Apologies, was poor formatting. The HPD reads as

Stories (2) A Units (2) B Units (0) Ownership (PVT) Registration# (0) Class (N/A)


So one house with two stories and 2 units.

Layout is just a standard home with a first floor, second floor, basement. First floor has two bedrooms, living room, dining room, bathroom, kitchen. Unsure about the second floor.

As I said, my apartment is all in the basement, which I use stairs down to access. Also, all the meters--electric and gas-- are in the basement with me. This includes the electrical panels for the basement as well as first and second floor. They're inside the boiler room which is in my apartment (in its own room). Which means that if something happens with a switch blowing, no one can access it without me being home. I obviously lock my apartment for privacy and security, so they'd need me to let them in to get to their panels. Also, there's no fire door for the boiler room, so should a fire happen, I might be unable to get out as the boiler room is right across the stairs which is my only way in or out. I'd have to try and climb onto a desk, bust open a window, and try to squeeze out.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby TenantNet » Fri Nov 02, 2018 2:20 pm

Except that reads (according to HPD norms) 4 units total: 2 A units PLUS 2 B units.

At first you said that 75% of your unit is in the basement, but then later on (and now) you're saying that ALL of your unit is in the basement. So which is it?

Then, if the first floor is all one unit, and the second floor is all one unit, that makes three units in the building. See why this is confusing, at a minimum?

I don't know if a fire door is required in converted homes or not, but then it sounds as if the basement is indeed an illegal unit.

Yes, egress is also a problem for you (even if the unit was legal).

I see several issues. First obviously is the illegal unit for you.

Second is the illegal unit if you move out and someone else moves in. Seriously, you should take steps to force the LL to stop this. I'm not sure how, but it probably involves getting violations and making a stink with DOB and elected officials ... even after you move out. These things can indeed be deadly. Take the next tenant into consideration.

Then, the question is what's your liability for the remainder of the lease if you move out early. If it's only a few months, I'd eat the difference. Also consider whatever deposit you have with the LL. (some tenants withhold the last month's rent for that).

Document everything with photos, videos and witnesses, including bad conditions and the layout. Then get violations placed. By that time the LL will learn what you're up to. So do everything you can before the shit hits the fan. You can get both DOB and HPD violations, but understand the agencies are lazy and sometimes corrupt. So persist.

Consult with an attorney as to how the illegal unit might impact a case the LL could bring against you, and if needed, put things in place that might make it difficult to maintain a case. You will want to have a case dismissed if brought.

At some point you might want to get a release for the rest of the rent. By then the LL might be glad to see you leave. But don't agree to things that would hinder you.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby NYtenantnewb » Fri Nov 02, 2018 5:08 pm

Maybe it's the way it's formatting, but here's a screen shot: https://imgur.com/a/tk8uGLD (I hope that link is allowed) So it shows 2 stories and 2 A Units.

As far as the unit being totally in the basement, yes, all rooms are in the basement. I enter a side door and walk down stairs to it. Basically, the windows are at 5' high about, just at my head, so when I look out I see the ground like the yard or driveway. However, the land the house sits on is sloped down towards the curb, so it's on a little hill.

All electrical meters are in the boiler room which is in my apartment, along with all electrical panels. Like I said, no one has access to them except for me, and I keep my apartment locked. They'd have to have me home to let them down in the basement to access them.

Some more info:

Number of Buildings:2 (there is a garage I think is why it's 2)
Number of Floors:1.5
Gross Floor Area:1,320 sf (estimated)
Residential Units: 2 Total # of Units:2
Land Use:One and Two Family Buildings

Again, on the DOB it shows it as 2 Family Dwelling, and no CO is on file. I know it wont always need it, but the house was built 1945 from what I've been seeing, so it should really have one, no? Especially since the LL bought this house a year ago now, a CO would have been in the works?

I'm going to try and get a consultation from the NYC bar legal referral services so I can present all my information and see if I can get a definitive answer, and to also have them help draft a release.

I don't want to get 311 involved yet in case it is illegal and I'm forced to vacate, though I doubt it's a dangerous situation, I don't want to take the chance as I don't have anywhere to go right now.
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Re: Illegal Apartment Help -- First Time Renter

Postby TenantNet » Fri Nov 02, 2018 5:40 pm

Now that you point that out, then yes, it was the formatting. According to the jpg, it's 2 units total.

However, it seems there are really 3 units: 1st, 2nd floors and the basement. So the registration would be false as well.

As I said, in many cases CO's are not required for 1-2 family homes. See https://www1.nyc.gov/site/buildings/hom ... pancy.page

Also see https://www.brickunderground.com/blog/w ... _occupancy
CO's might not be required for 1-2 family homes unless they have been altered.

I know some old HUGE multiple dwellings (i.e., over 100 units) that are not required to have COs simply because they haven't been altered. You would have to get DOB on it.

I don't know how this works when the yard is sloping. On one side the grade could be close to the ceiling, and on the other side the grade could be at the floor level (in many such cases, there are doors coming from the basement to the downhill side). But I don't know how DOB or HPD would interpret that.

Another thing to do is contact Con Ed on the meter sharing issue. Somewhere on this site we have a Con Ed booklet on meter sharing, but it's old. Call them.

As for the Bar Assoc. referrals, we don't recommend that. They have a list of lawyers and you get whoever is on the top of the list on that day. In many cases they really don't know tenant or housing law. Your best bet is to speak to a real tenant lawyer. If you're poor, go to Legal Aid or Legal Services.

BTW, aside from all I said above, you can move out whenever you wish and take the chance the LL will not come after you, even if you don't have a release. Some smaller LLs will just eat the loss (although you might have to eat the loss of your deposit) because of what it might cost them to litigate. You take a chance and there's no guarantee either way.

As for 311, the only reason to call them is to get it on record. Do not expect that DOB will rush right out unless there's something dangerous.
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