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Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby cchrist » Mon Mar 25, 2019 12:38 pm

So I recently began digging into my apartment history as a result of my landlord springing new Utility charges on me without warning. What I have found points to many possibilities but I am hesitant to take the next step without all of the information. I have been living there for 4 years, I'm currently a month-to-month tenant, and unfortunately do not have a copy of the original lease. I have requested a copy from LL several times but he has failed to provide me with one. Oh also he is on many LL watch lists as a known predatory landlord... This is what I have found in my research so far:

- DHCR records show that apartment was Rent Stabilized until 1996 when the current owner purchased the building and stopped registering. So there is no data for over 15 years.

- Not registered with the HPD either.

-Also no Certificate of Occupancy on file.

I have yet to approach him with my knowledge of any of this so as to avoid confrontation before I have everything lined up. While he hasn't raised the rent in the 4 years I've been living here, I recently discovered that he is charging $200 less for the mirror apartment across the hall. With the information I have currently, some people have advised me to stop paying rent and wait for LL to take me to court so that I can counter with an overcharge suit. What are the possibilities that the apartment has actually legally been deregulated and I will just end up losing way more in court/lawyer fees?
cchrist
 
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Re: Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby cchrist » Mon Mar 25, 2019 12:40 pm

As an addendum, the building does not satisfy the "classic" requirements of Rent Stabilization. There are 5 residential units, and one commercial unit on the ground floor. But DHCR says it was regulated up until current owner purchased the building.
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Re: Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby TenantNet » Mon Mar 25, 2019 1:29 pm

New utility charges? Can you explain? What were the old charges and what are the new ones? I don't mean dollar amount, but was it for electric, gas, or something else? Do you pay the LL directly or the utility company? What kind of meters are there in the building? Are there separate meters for each unit, or one for the entire building?

Can you describe the building? How old? How many units? Is it a hotel or SRO (kitchen and bathrooms shared?). A Cert of Occupancy might not be required. That depends on a number of factors. Generally pre-1939 bldgs don't require a COO unless altered.

With 5 units, it has to be registered with HPD. I don't know of any exceptions. That might be a good thing as the LL could be prevented with bringing a case against you in Housing Court. (although Supreme Ct might be possible).

Which LL? (tell us using Private Mail).

Have you requested a rent history from DHCR? If so, what does it say about your unit?

Do you remember if the original lease was a rent stab lease? Did you request one in writing?

Sounds like there are a number of things you could make a fuss about. But in general, the utility increases, are we talking $20 or $200. I ask because if on the lower end, it might be easier to let sleeping dogs lie. It really depends on all the issues you're dealing with.

As for the identical unit going for $200 less, well that's not a legal overcharge. Your legal rent (with DHCR) would depend on your unit's history, not the history of the mirror unit. Just getting to the point of establishing your RS status could be a heavy lift (although it does sound as if there was no legal deregulation). Then DHCR would have to apply the formula to set the rent. And even then any collectible overcharge would be limited to 4 years prior to when you file a complaint. The advice you're getting sounds uninformed.

As for the number of units, I would look to see if any of the units were combined at any time in the past. If there were 6 units originally, and if 2 were combined to make it 5 units, it should still be regulated. Also look to see if the ground floor commercial was residential at any time. Good place to start would be with the plans on file at DOB.

Are any of the other units/neighbors still rent stab? Ask your neighbors, but do so quietly.

For the present, I would not let the LL know you're digging around. Why create a problem until you really need to do so.

I'm not one to shy from a fight. But you do need to decide if that's what you want.
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Re: Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby cchrist » Wed Mar 27, 2019 8:59 am

So about a year ago my landlord just showed up at my door and said that he needed to install a thermostat, the only explanation given was "now you can control the heat." I didn't think anything of this until I received a phone call from National Grid (gas) informing me that they had been unable to perform an actual reading on the meter (old kind, separate meters for each unit) until that point and that I owed them $1200 (I pay them directly). They sent people over to investigate whether someone was using my gas lines or to see if there was anything else going on-- all of this with my LL's knowledge because I had confronted him about the gas bill, he played along, opening the basement for them etc. Finally I spoke with a national grid supervisor who was able to inform me that my LL had switched us over to paying for heat and hot water when all we had paid was for the stove gas for the previous years. No mention of this ever from LL. This is the reason I started digging in the first place, because the National Grid supervisor suggested I request a rental history from the DHCR because if my apartment was rent stabilized, this would be illegal for him to change.

The rental history shows that from 1984 to 1996 the apt was rent stabilized, and that the tenant was paying $367.50/month. (I'm sure I could do some math from that number to find out what the legal possibility for rent right now could be but I'm not sure about it) After that there has been no information registered with the DHCR. I did some more digging and found that in 1996 the current owner/LL purchased the building.

The building was built in 1931 I believe. There are 3 floors, 5 residential units with a commercial unit on the ground floor. Not a hotel or SRO, private bathrooms and kitchens for each unit. I have searched the DOB database but cannot find any information on alterations other than 2 complaints in 2010 for construction/renovations without permits. These seem to have been closed because inspectors could not gain access?

I kick myself for not having retained a copy of the lease, I don't know how that happened, I have not requested a lease in writing only several times over the phone, he has not provided one as of this time. And I cannot recall if it was a rent stabilized lease or not.

All other tenants have moved in within the last year and I highly doubt any are RS. I do not really want a fight, I am relatively comfortable here- the rent has not been raised at all in the past 4 years- I just do not like being taken advantage of and as a result of my digging it appears that this could be a possibility, that's all. There are other things I could moan about (leaky roof, airy window, etc) and the gas bill did jump from $20/month to at least $200, which is manageable I guess, it was really the idea that I could have been overcharged for years that set me on this investigative journey.

Thanks for your help
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Re: Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby TenantNet » Wed Mar 27, 2019 10:58 am

Switching tenants to pay for HHW is certainly illegal for RS tenants and I think also illegal for unregulated tenants. First, it would be illegal under the lease (or for month-to-month tenants without proper notice). Also. the LL is supposed to provide HHW, not the tenant.

Just wondering, do you have separate heat units in each apartment, or central heat for the whole building, usually by a central burner/boiler in the building's basement? If the former, that might also be illegal under Section 27-2028 of the NYC Housing Maintenance Code. See http://tenant.net/Other_Laws/HMC/sub2/art8.html

Some LLs install separate heating units in each apartment, hoping to offload the HHW costs to tenants. But most buildings require central heat, unless there's a waiver.

Built in 1931, then probably does not require COO unless it's been altered or changed use. I would dig back into old records to see if - when built - it might have had six units. Be prepared as this might be a road block to RS jurisdiction. You might need to actually go to DOB and look at the plans (I don't now if they still have paper plans, but if not, then on microfiche. You can get copies of those. You can get a wealth of information from old documents. I researched my building back to 1910 and found a wealth of information that helped us win building-wide services cases at DHCR.

Google "Christopher Gray research buildings" to find guides on how to research buildings in NYC. I have a copy somewhere, but try these links.

Remember Change of Use also triggers a COO, so look in local libraries about the bldg and/or businesses that might have been in the commercial space over the years.

Not getting access is not an excuse for the LL, but that is how DOB operates.

If he takes you to court for a holdover or non-pay, he would have to indicate your regulatory status in the court petition. Some inexperienced LLs might not know this and just check-off or state RS. If so, then problem solved. If not, then you can claim the pleadings are incorrect. At that time you would have to get him to produce the original lease. That stuff gets complicated and really calls for a lawyer. And ... going to court should probably not be your goal at this point.

Gas bill? You shouldn't be paying for gas IMHO. That should be included in rent.
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Re: Am I Rent Stabilized? Done the research, what next??

Postby TenantNet » Wed Mar 27, 2019 11:04 am

You told us privately the name of your LL. He's on the Worst LL Watchlist: https://landlordwatchlist.com

It says all the bldgs he owns have 6+ units. That's not definitive, but you have to ask where the Public Advocate got that information in compiling the list. It might be DOB or HPD records, and you can FOIL that. I would contact the Pub. Advocate's office to track that down.
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