There’s a reason I keep harping on this. Landlords in the city are currently incentivized to do illegal, shady shit, because it’s often on the tenant to figure out that it occurred and have the wherewithal to deal with it, plus legal know-how. Sometimes there is no potential upside, which is why I have recommended that many people move rather than become embroiled in a battle where they will end up on the tenant blacklist. But, in the case of overcharges on rent stabilized apartments, while the process is brutal, the potential reward is very high. Like, six figures high. Like, down payment to BUY an apartment high. So why wouldn’t you look up your apartment’s history, which takes 10 minutes, for this potential upside?
As a tenant, it is very important that you look up your apartment to see if it is rent stabilized, and, if so, request your apartment’s payment history. You may not know your apartment is rent stabilized, which is why I tell you to look it up. You may be paying an illegal rent, and you may be able to get that rent returned with damages and/or interest.
On Saturday I had a long conversation with someone who found out after months of living in her apartment that she was being charged DOUBLE the legal rent by the primary tenants. Unfortunately she and her roommate hired a lawyer who did not specialize in DHCR complaints and rent stabilization law (unlike yours truly), so they ended up not getting everything they were owed and had to pay a massive legal bill. But it was a fascinating conversation, because it reminded me that knowledge I now take for granted is extremely niche and not common sense. She should, with better legal representation, have ended up taking over the lease at the legal price AND have gotten her overcharge back from the primary tenants with damages. It would have totaled close to $30,000 for less than a year of living there, and she would have saved over $1000 a month in rent moving forward. Big. Upside.
The most recent payout I read about is a couple on the UWS who discovered they were paying roughly $1800/month above the legal rent. While there are not many details about how the case began, at some point they searched for their rent history and found out that the landlord was claiming over $70,000 worth of improvements in their apartment. Rather than filing a DHCR complaint, this couple ended up facing an eviction in housing court (tenants can’t sue landlords in housing court; we must withhold rent until we are sued and then file a counterclaim), and finally, after two years, a judge has awarded them $123,000. Obviously the landlord is going to appeal, but I don’t see him having a leg to stand on. He just wants to tie it up in court longer.
The stories above are part of the reason that NYC is in the midst of a massive push to change the way it deals with horrible landlords. Currently they only face any repercussions when a tenant figures out they’ve done something illegal and after years of fighting, which is easy for them (lawyers on retainer) and hard for tenants (have you tried living here???). But until then, you need to be on top of your shit. It is counterintuitive and if you are wrong you end up getting totally screwed as a tenant.
This is a friendly reminder that I’m (hopefully) not screaming into a void; I write about the DHCR and what to look for in a lease because there are multiple ways to deal with scummy landlords, and not all are created equal. There are things you may not even know are wrong. I legitimately want to help you guys make sure your living situations are safe and legal. Because the subway might kill you, but your apartment shouldn’t.