My landlord was not always my enemy. I have had plenty of wonderful landlords, and landlords I haven’t thought twice about. In fact, I think my landlord is a good guy deep down—he is just very interested in money and very distrustful of his tenants, in a way that antagonizes us and has pitted us all against him. The process of renewing our lease is just the latest struggle with him, but I feel we’ve emerged relatively victorious.
Here’s how it happened.
July 1, 2013
Our lease expires, we’re unsure whether we want to go or stay. I feel twitchy and like I want a big change, but that change is more like, “Move to Paris” than, “Move to a new place and pay $400 more in rent.” My roommate has a job he loves in New York and so Paris is not feasible. I don’t have a job so a rent hike seems irresponsible.
We decide to ride out not making a decision as long as possible, and don’t bring it up to the landlord. In the meantime, we keep paying our standard $1,400/month.
I spend much of my time not-writing and boning up on my tenants’ rights knowledge, knowing that even though we haven’t renewed our lease, because our apartment is rent-stabilized, he can only kick us out if he decides to turn the building into a condo and sell the apartments, or has an immediate family member move in.
I know that policies and laws are often ignored and that ultimately the landlord can do all sorts of things to get around them. Often your only real recourse is to sue, which seems like a lot of work and a very drawn-out process. I do like knowing how things should be, though, and get a small thrill when reading about the power we do have as tenants, at least theoretically, especially in a seemingly powerless situation.
Our landlord repeatedly asks the 80-year-old woman upstairs why she doesn’t move in with her son in New Jersey, and says he would “give her some money to help with moving expenses.” Ha! Ann knows he can’t kick her out because she is over 65 and she has been there since the 1950s. She tells me on several occasions that next time he suggests this, she will ask for $80,000 and watch his eyes get really big.
The landlord then tells the guy across the hall from Ann that his son needs to move into his apartment. Chris has been here 10 years and suggests kicking us out instead (which is fair, we’ve only been here two years and are ambivalent about the place at best). Landlord says his son doesn’t want to live on the first floor. Fair enough.
October 1, 2013
Landlord starts calling, emailing, and leaving us notes saying he wants to meet with us. A week prior I emailed him about coming into our apartment without warning, for a non-emergency (he left the toilet seat up). I copy-pasted something about a $5,000 fine and suddenly he wants to meet right away.
October 5th, 2013
Landlord knocks on our door at 8 a.m. even though we arranged to meet at 8:30. I am in my pajamas and Dustin is in the shower. I tell him to come back in half an hour. He’s not happy about it, but obliges.
At 8:30 we all sit around the kitchen table and he tries to tell us that we aren’t weeding our vegetable garden well enough. Dustin asks him why does he care, he doesn’t live here, we think the garden looks great. They debate the subjectivity of beauty (using me as an unfortunate example) for roughly 15 minutes, and get nowhere. He won’t be giving us a key to the basement so that we can access said garden, but will look the other way if we jump out there through our back window. Great.
He swears he won’t come into our apartment unless it’s an emergency. We tell him that we don’t consider getting a ladder into the backyard through the front and back windows without notifying us an emergency. He concedes this point.
He then shows us our new lease. “This is the same as your old lease, I think,” he says. Actually, it is not a lease so much as a Word document he typed up himself. It is full of new rules and has a rent hike of $100.
“$100?” I say. “Isn’t there a set percentage you can raise the rent?”
“Oh, this is just what my advisor said,” he says. “I think this is right.”
I say nothing. He tells us he needs to know if we will stay within two days and then leaves.
“Oh reeeeally,” I think in my head but say nothing. I look up the set rent increase for rent-stabilized apartments in NYC. Turns out, on September 30th, one day before he bothered us to meet with him, the approved increase jumped from 2% to 4%. Cute. Also, a $100 increase is actually 8% of our rent, not 4%. I email him this and let him know we need a few days to look over the lease, as it is not the same lease at all. In fact it is completely different.
October 6th, 2013
Landlord replies: “Okay, let’s go for 4% @ $1456.65 monthly as confirmed.” Does not mention that you know, he tried to charge us double that.
October 7th, 2013
“I need an answer from you both this week regarding lease renewal or not.”
We unearth our original lease from two years ago. It’s a standard lease, and has no rules like, “If your apartment isn’t professionally cleaned when you leave, we will charge you $500 from your deposit,” and makes no mention of charging interest on late rent.
I look up tenant’s rights with lease renewal again and they list an example that is identical to ours:
The fact sheet stipulates that the landlord must give you a standard lease renewal, that is, he or she must renew your existing lease, not give you a new one, and if he or she does not get you your lease on time, you have 60 days from the time you receive it to renew it or let it expire.
It also mentions that you can elect to have the rent increased at the percentage that was set at the time your lease expired (July 2013 for us, and 2%), vs the increase approved at the time the landlord gives you the lease (October 2013, 4%).
October 12th, 2013
Knowing that policy is in our favor, we decide that our priority is to stay on the same lease, not sign a new one, and that if he finds a way to kick us out we are fine with it. I write an email, guns politely blazing:
We do plan on staying, and we’re sorry to drag on the process.
But since we are renewing on a rent-stabilized apartment, we should be provided with a standard lease renewal form, not a new lease. This is what we signed last year and what we expect to sign again.
Additionally, the rent increase should actually be at the rates for July 2013, not September 30, 2013. Since that is when our lease expired and when you should have provided us a lease renewal. So 2% increase, not 4%.
Where I’m getting this information, if you are curious: http://www.nyshcr.org/Rent/factsheets/orafac4.htm
Technically we have 60 days from when you give us the lease renewal to give it back to you signed, but we are happy to sign a standard one-year lease renewal form effective November 1st.
If you want to come by with that tomorrow, we’d be happy to sign it then.
Regarding your following claims, I’ll check and get back to you in a day or so. I don’t believe you have notice us prior to lease expiration date on July as you should. So I’ll check and let you know.
There’s no stopping me now, I even insert a passive aggressive exclamation point:
No, giving us the lease is your responsibility, not ours. When we stay and keep paying rent, that means our lease is effectually renewed.
Take your time!
With this email our correspondence stops.
October 23, 2013
He comes by the apartment while I’m working from home and tells me that he talked to his advisor. I am tempted to bring up an imaginary advisor, too, but don’t risk it. His advisor told him that he cannot back date the lease to July 2013. What I have read says that we can demand that as tenants, but I know this is not a priority for us, so I just nod. He then says something like, But you do have 60 days to sign the lease, my advisor will mail you a lease renewal, you are not allowed to have a brand new lease, you have to stay on the old one. We will send you a lease renewal form.” He says this as if I am being defeated here, even though it is what we wanted. I play along, “Oh, okay. That’s okay.”
I just got the lease in the mail. It is a standard renewal—no new crazy rules our landlord dreamed up on his home computer (“no children” was one of the more illegal highlights)—and the rent is increased at 4%, $56. I know we can fight him to get the increase down to $28, and that 2% is more fair, but we decided it’s fine. He can have $28 more dollars from us a month, but we will not renew it until January 1st, and in the meantime we will keep paying our $1,400.63 a month and fantasizing about moving to Paris, France, or Cleveland, Ohio. We joke that as much as we would love to not have this man in our lives anymore, we know that if he got a new tenant he could give them his homemade lease and charge them something closer to the market rate. He would love nothing more than for us to leave, so we are staying. For many reasons, yes, but spite is definitely one of them.