Congratulations, Mr. Banks!

We recently had the pleasure of protecting the tenancy of Jose Banks: original hipster, New Yorker for 50 years, and all around sweetheart.  He had been taking care of his elderly aunt Georgina ("Tía Georgie") at their apartment in Upper Manhattan since before the world trade center attacks.  When she passed away, his landlord promptly served him with eviction papers.

Jose with his brother and Tía Georgie.

Jose with his brother and Tía Georgie.

Jose in the apartment, in 1962.

Jose in the apartment, in 1962.

 

It took years to get to the jury trial, and Jose's family and friends rallied to testify for him.  After a three-day trial, the jurors returned a verdict that (1) Jose and his aunt shared significant financial and emotional commitments and interdependence, and (2), the apartment in question was the primary residence of each of them for the year prior to her death.

For these reasons, Jose was entitled to succession of his aunt's rent-stabilized tenancy as a nontraditional family member.  Jose can continue to live in the apartment he has called home for half a century.

Congratulations, Jose!  We are all so happy for you.

Posted on March 14, 2016 .

Knowledge is Power—and Private! and Free!

How much rent did the tenant before you pay?  Are you being swindled by your landlord, or is that sweetheart deal for real?

Finding out your building status, and the rent history in your apartment, is something every New Yorker should do.  The State created rent regulation to protect tenants, but these only work if tenants know about their status.  Getting your rent registration history is free, easy, and secret from your landlord.

How to do it:

You've got options!

  1. Email and ask for it at rentinfo@nyshcr.org. The rent history will be printed and mailed directly to your apartment a few days later.  Be sure to include your address and apartment number so they know where to send it!
  2. Call 718-739-6400. The rent history will be printed and mailed directly to your apartment.
  3. Visit the office in person. If you bring proof of identity (photo ID) and proof of tenancy (copy of lease, rent receipt, or utility bill), the rent history will be printed and given to you right at the office.

You might be entitled to pay a lower rent, or even be refunded by your landlord for overcharged rent.   Even if you choose to do nothing with it, aren't you curious?

Posted on February 8, 2016 .

On AirBnB and Subletting

Thinking of subletting your apartment or room through AirBnB or a similar service?  Think again!  If you are a rent regulated tenant—subject to Rent Stabilization, Rent Control, the Loft Law, or in an HDFC, Mitchell Llama, or other subsidized apartment—you could lose your apartment if you rent it out this way.

If you sublet your apartment, you cannot charge more than the landlord charges you.  If you stay in the apartment, you cannot charge more than the pro rata share of the rent.  You have a right to a roommate, but that law (Real Property Law § 235-f) is a little complicated.   It is also affected by the sublease rules (Real Property Law § 226-b) and your lease.

"Profiteering" May Get You Evicted

There have been a number of recent cases evicting tenants for renting out their apartment at a profit.  While the law is far from settled on this issue, courts are tending to find that any type of "profiteering" is incurable, which means that even if you stop doing it as soon as you are notified by the landlord, you can still be evicted.

You cannot disguise additional charges, either.  We have seen tenants evicted for charging a "furniture rental" or "storage fee."  AirBnB renters regularly charge a "cleaning fee;" this is also illegal in a rent-regulated apartment.

"Transient" Subletting May Get You Evicted

The other problem with these services is the transient nature of the rentals.  A stay of less than 30 days is usually considered transient.  

Whether or not transient rentals are lawful depends on how your apartment is classified.  Nearly all apartments in New York City are Class A multiple dwellings, in which transient rentals are not allowed.   A Class B multiple dwelling, such as a rooming house or residential hotel, allows transient rentals.  Using a Class A apartment for Class B purposes, however, is illegal.

Owners have been caught and fined for this too—it's not just tenants.  If you know of a landlord that is doing short-term rentals ("illegal hoteling"), you can contact the Mayor's task force, or call 311 and report it.

Don't Count on AirBnB to Warn or Protect You

Needless to say, the services brokering illegal transient rentals are not informing their customers that the rentals are against the law—why would they?  The services makes money off the rentals, whether or not the listing tenant gets evicted.  Even as the City reports that most AirBnB listings in New York City are illegal, there are glowing advertisements for these services all over the City, which do not warn potential customers of the dangers of using the service.  To find a warning, you must specifically search through their website for the "government & law enforcement policies" page.

A listing tenant may even face cancellation charges, if they try to remedy the situation to save their housing.  Imagine this scenario: You have been listing on AirBnB.  You receive a Notice of Termination from you landlord.  You immediately cancel future listings, and close your account.  What happens?  In all likelihood, you still get evicted, because AirBnB is "incurable," and AirBnB hits you with a cancellation fee.

Recently, we have also come across a case where AirBnB sent records of a listing tenant directly to their landlord, without a Court Order.  The landlord is now using those records in Court to try to evict the tenant.

If you have stories to share with us about AirBnB legal issues, need advice as to whether or not you can safely host through the service, or have received an eviction notice based on your subletting practices, feel free to contact us.

 

 

Posted on January 7, 2016 .

'Cause, tenants, it's cold outside!

Between October 1 and May 31, we are in "Heat Season." During this time, the City requires building owners to provide tenants with heat according to the temperature outside.  Your landlord MUST provide you with adequate heat and hot water, though based on your lease, you may be required to pay for gas, fuel, or electricity to run heating equipment.


 

 

During the day (6AM to 10PM)

If is below 55°F outside, It must be at least 68°F inside.

 

During the evening (10PM to 6AM)

If it is below 40°F outside, It must be at least 55°F inside.


Property owners are also required to provide hot water 365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don't be afraid to assert your rights—you are not alone!  The city keeps a running count of the heat complaints each heat season.  If your landlord is not providing adequate heat, don't spend the winter cold.  Call 311, or report it online or with the HPD app.

 

Posted on November 18, 2015 .

Tenant Relocators: Every Slumlord Needs a Sidekick

New York City's more villainous slumlords have been using "tenant relocation specialists" for years.  As the practice grows more widespread, these "relocators" are becoming increasingly cartoonish.

The Muscle

Anthony Falconite is frequently featured in news articles by now, which describe his alleged intimidation of rent-stabilized tenants.  According to the New York Daily News, he is a former police officer, and his tactics are reported to include barging into people's apartments, photographing their mail, and following tenants to work. 

Attorney General Schneiderman issued a Cease and Desist letter against Falconite last summer, but according to the Daily News, it hasn't stopped Falconite yet.

The Honeypot

One of our clients has recently come to us saying that a "model" was sent to him by his landlord—who just purchased over a dozen buildings in the east village—to encourage him to take a buyout.  An agent of the landlord told our client he would like her, due to her appearance. 

According to our client, this "model" has started approaching all of the rent-stabilized tenants in these east village buildings; asking to come into their apartments, and repeatedly offering meager sums of money to move out, even after the tenants refused.  This woman is friendly.  She comes bearing bottles of wine or baked goods, and urges rent-stabilized tenants to leave their homes.

Beware of sleazy measures like this.  Sugary buy-out harassment has the same invidious goal: to get rent-regulated tenants out.

The Keystone Kops

According to the West Side Spirit, the NYPD investigating a recent incident in which three men impersonated police officers to gain unauthorized access to a building on the upper west side.  

The article states that these men flashed fake badges and claimed to be from the NYPD.  They questioned rent-stabilized tenants about their apartments and their tenancy status, asking how long tenants had lived in their homes, and who lived with them.  

These antics are illegal.  Mayor de Blasio recently signed three new laws protecting tenants from these antics, but harassing tenants to force them to give up rent-stabilized apartments already violated New York statutes.  If you have experiences with any of these or other tenant "relocation specialists," tell us about it!


Posted on November 3, 2015 .

Illegal Hotels: Pests Beget Pests

With the growing popularity of services like AirBnB, a light has been shed on New York's illegal hotels.

These are apartment units, which are intended to be occupied by long term tenants, being rented out by the owner or a “tenant” who has rented a block of apartments, for transient use.  This is illegal.  Unlike AirBnB, which is a temporary measure tenants can offer when they leave their apartment vacant for a temporary period of time, illegal hotel rooms are permanent.

It's easy to see why people are drawn to this practice.   Hotels are required to have a proper certificate of occupancy, the use must comply with zoning requirements, and the building requires added safety features that an apartment does not (For example, fire safety features and accommodations for the handicapped).  Offering an apartment for rent provides easy income with low overhead start up costs.

 
 

It is also easy to see why this is illegal.    Apartment buildings are not designed for the denser occupancy of hotels.  A constant flow of transient tenants can cause excessive noise, and disrupt neighbors who live in the building legally. Longterm tenants may also be concerned about their safety, with the high traffic of strangers through their building.  Illegal hoteliers sometimes use key card systems instead of keys, which proper tenants may find problematic for a number of reasons.  

Finally, these "hotels" are breeding grounds for bed bugs, which are primarily spread by transient tenants in New York. 

Posted on August 31, 2015 .

Congratulations, 86 Kenmare!

After years of living above restaurants that blasted music at 2 a.m., filled the block with cigarette smoke, and ignored neighborhood complaints, the tenants at 86 Kenmare Street had serious cause for concern when their building's first floor commercial space was leased to the owners of Charlie Bird—a restaurant known for its mouthwatering menu, and the crowds that it brings.  

Fortunately for all, restaurant owners Ryan Hardy, Robert Bohr, and Grant Reynolds came together with the tenants of 86 Kenmare Street to protect this quiet neighborhood.  It was a privilege to appear before Community Board 2 with the tenants association.  The Board worked late into the night as the tenants advocated tirelessly for their community, and the restaurant owners ultimately agreed to incorporate the neighborhood's needs into their plans.  With the help of the Board, the association and the restaurant owners reached an agreement.

To mitigate the noise of happy diners, the restaurant has promised to close by 11 p.m. Sundays and Mondays and by midnight the rest of the week, and to install state of the art sound proofing.  

With the cooperation of the new restaurant owners, it seems we can all look forward to a harmonious relationship between the Charlie Bird team and the neighborhood, and a great new place to eat.

Posted on June 19, 2015 .

Wanted: The Buyout Bandit

Do You Know This Landlord?

New York Magazine recently interviewed "The Grim, Racist (and Likely Illegal) Methods of One Brooklyn Landlord."  This landlord, while concealing his identity, proudly described in this article what is unfortunately a fairly common practice in New York City.  According to the article, he targets rent stabilized tenants, primarily minority tenants, and manipulates them into taking lowball buyouts.  Then, the article states, he makes minor repairs to their apartment, and represents that the apartment is no longer stabilized to prospective new tenants who can pay market rate rent.  Gentrification accomplished.

This is not a new practice.  Some landlords will go to any lengths, legal or not, to gentrify their properties, but it isn't every day that one brags about this invidious—and unlawful—goal to the press. The article quoted the landlord as saying:

"Some blacks have an attorney and everything."

That's right, and we are here to represent stabilized tenants in the city against bullies like this one.  Just to be clear: the methods described in this article are completely illegal.  You, as a tenant, have the right not to be treated like this.  

Do you know tenants who need help fighting back? Has your landlord recently offered you a few thousand dollars to leave a stabilized the apartment?  Have so called "buyout specialists" come to harass you at your home?  Have your heat and hot water been shut off without warning?  Has your landlord changed the locks on your building, and "forgotten" to give you a new key?  Have you recently moved into an apartment where the neighbors complain that they are being forced out after years of tenancy?  Do you know people facing these issues in your neighborhood?  

Have you had an experience of your own with tactics like these?  Tell us your story. 

Posted on June 9, 2015 .