NYC is very expensive! It’s easy to be taken advantage of, so we collaborated with our Super Neighbor, Brandon McKenzie, to help you KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and give you some helpful tips and tricks. Brandon is an attorney at Moss & Moss LLP, where he handles complex real estate litigation matters, and Co-Founder of ListAcross, a one-stop-shop for selling your stuff across peer-to-peer marketplaces (launching soon!).
Are you being illegally overcharged for rent by your landlord?
In New York, for market apartments, your landlord can charge whatever the market will bear.
But not all apartments are market rate! Many apartments in New York are subject to rent regulation. There are only about 16,000 rent controlled apartments left in New York, so odds are, you’re probably not in one of those.
There are, however, about 1,000,000 rent stabilized apartments in the City.
You can find stabilized apartments in buildings with six (6) or more units built between 1947 and 1973 and in certain buildings with three or more units built or substantially renovated after 1974 that have benefited from certain tax incentives, like the 421-a property tax exemption or the J-51 tax incentive.
If you live in a rent stabilized apartment, the Rent Guidelines Board votes each year on how much your rent can be raised for the following year. This year saw a bigger increase than most years. For rent stabilized renewal leases beginning between October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023, your landlord can increase your rent on a one-year lease by 3.25% and on a two-year lease by 5%. If you’re in a rent stabilized apartment, your landlord is supposed to provide you with a rent stabilized lease, but some unscrupulous landlords use regular leases in stabilized units with new tenants to try to avoid the rent increase limits (spoiler alert, that’s not legal).
Think you might be a victim of rent overcharges?
Head over to this website where you can submit two inquiries to the NYC Department of Homes and Community Renewal (“DHCR”).
The first inquiry is “Am I rent stabilized?” DHCR should have records on rent stabilization, and they might be able to tell you.
The second inquiry is for your apartment’s rent history. DHCR will typically only send that information to a tenant or an owner. Historically, DHCR would mail the results to the apartment in question, so keep an eye on your mailbox.
Results can take several weeks to process. Once you have your rent history, go through it to see what past tenants paid and what each rent increase looked like.
If there’s a history of steady bumps of 1-3% followed by some large, sudden, inexplicable increases, you might be getting overcharged, as long as the apartment was not subject to deregulation, typically before 2019. The penalty to a landlord for a rent overcharge is the amount collected above the legal rent, plus either accrued interest or treble (3X) damages.
DHCR has some fun fact sheets like this one on how to claw back those overcharges from landlords. You can also sue your landlord for overcharges from the past four years, and if a court finds that your landlord acted wilfully, you may be entitled to 3X the overcharge refund on rents paid two years before your claim.
The court can only look back four years, so if an overcharge is older than that, you might be out of luck. Typically, the sooner you file your lawsuit, the better.
Good luck out there kiddos!
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