My Journey To Lease Renewal, a Timeline

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.


 

August 2013

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.

 

September 2013

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.

He replies:

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.”

 

Today

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.

Photo: Kheel Center, Cornell University

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30 Comments / Post A Comment

BRAVO! I salute you.

(I have, in the past, occasionally delved into the arcana of NYC rent regulations, so this speaks to me. I totally get the spite thing, too. I probably would have argued about the $28, though, because that’s almost two decent cocktails a month…)

Meaghano (#529)

@angry little raincloud Haha god it totally is.

sea ermine (#122)

I don’t think he could do that to a new tenant. He could charge a vacancy increase (of 20%) but it would stay rent stabilized because that would bring the rent up to $1680 which is under the $2000 needed to destabilize. I know there is a way to get around that by doing a ton of renovations that push the rent up though.

Meaghano (#529)

@sea ermine You’re right. But $200 more a month! Still a good deal for that place, sadly.

Meaghano (#529)

@sea ermine (I say sadly because in what universe is $1680 for a railroad apartment a “good deal” but alas)

sea ermine (#122)

@Meaghano Oh no, I agree that an extra $200 a month is insane. I just mean that it would still be rent stabilized so he wouldn’t be allowed to give him his crazy invented lease, it would have to be a standard rent stabilized lease. My apartment was rent stablized and I had a vacancy increase on my lease (I think the previous tenant died, I get all kinds of medicaid mail for her in my box) but it was 20% and they still had to give me the regular lease.

Even 4% increase is a lot, that’s more than any salary raise I’ll get so there is no way I can keep up with my apartment and I can’t find anything similar for less (my rent is up to 1225 now and I can’t afford more but it’s giant and pretty and in a cute neighborhood and anything else I find is $1300 and tiny or too deep into Queens to make my commute tolerable).

OfficeDrone4 (#4,080)

@sea ermine Do not think that they won’t do this. I should have known better, but didn’t realize that fraud with rent-stabilized apartments was so widespread. When I found out that my building was on a list of rent-stabilized buildings I found in some corner of the internet, I requested a rental history from HUD and found out my apartment SHOULD have been stabilized when I moved in. I found this out a year too late to do anything about it because the statute of limitations runs from the date of the overcharge, not the date you move-in.

The rent I should have paid – $1400. The rent I pay – $2600. Multiple by 12 and then again by 5, and you have a lot of money that I will never see again that legally my landlord wasn’t allowed to charge me. I’m a lawyer and think about going to court, but when I talked to a tenant’s rights group they said they never win these sorts of cases because the evidence you need to show fraud is so difficult to assemble.

So don’t think that landlords don’t pull this sort of crap – they do, and they get away with it. I didn’t even think it might have been stabilized and was just happy I was getting an apartment slightly below market rate. If only I had pulled the history in the first two years we had moved in…

sea ermine (#122)

@OfficeDrone4 Oh wow that’s horrifying! I’m so sorry that happened to you!

OfficeDrone4 (#4,080)

@sea ermine Thanks. I tell everyone I know now, get your rental history immediately upon moving in and make sure you don’t have a claim. It’s really horrifying. My landlady owns a hotel next door where rooms let for $500 a night, so the idea that she needed that $72K more than my husband and I, who were students for the majority of the time of our tenancy, is laughable. I really wish there were a shot in hell we could win the case if we brought it.

Good people of NYC – get your rental histories. http://www.nyshcr.org/Rent/tenantresources.htm

Meaghano (#529)

@OfficeDrone4 1. PREACH. 2. That is awful and painful to even contemplate, I am so sorry. Maybe you have good money karma now? That is about the only upside I can imagine.

FWIW (#5,148)

@OfficeDrone4
The “Four Year Escape”:

There is a rule that says landlords only have to keep records for four years. Simply by letting four years go by, without filing the required annual rent registrations, some landlords have been able to argue that the next rent they charge after such a hiatus automatically becomes the legal regulated rent. In a number of cases in which the rent exceeded the “high rent” threshold (formerly $2,000, now $2,500), landlords have been able to deregulate units. Fortunately, the four year “statute of limitations” does not apply to the status of whether or not apartments are rent-stabilized. In several cases, McAdams Law has been able to get back Rent Stabilization Coverage for apartments – in one instance, even after more than thirty years.

It sounds to me like you might have a case…

This really bothers me because in nyc they’re always so shady, to the point of calling the anti-rent stabilization group the “Rent Stabilization Association”. More like “kill rent stabilization now, kill kill kill killit dead!”

They ALWAYS pit tenants against each other trying to convince people that their rents will go down if there is not rent protection. And people honest to god actually buy it and think to themselves “hey, I want lower rents! why should someone else get a good deal at my expense?” But when they succeeded in weakening rent protections in Boston… surprise! Rents just kept going up! WOW – shocker!!! The stakeholder isn’t going to give you a better deal “because they can now”. Rents don’t get pushed down, and the market doesn’t “correct” or adjust… and more importantly, why would you believe people with a vested interest in making the MOST money possible (maximizing their profits) would be looking out for your, competing, interests? Why would you ever think their desire to make money from you would correspond with a desire to save you money? There’s one person they want to save money: themselves. They are advocates for: themselves. Fair enough, but it’s really shady to spin it like what’s good for them is good for everyone. I mean, I get it:
“I want to make more money, and for everyone to pay the maximum amount possible, let’s do this!” is not exactly an easy sell.

aetataureate (#1,310)

Meaghan. Great job dealing with it but also great job documenting everything! Your landlord sounds terrible.

Meaghano (#529)

@aetataureate Thank you! Yeah, just today he came in to check out the thermostat because Ann upstairs was freezing but he thinks she’s just sick and should go to the doctor (she’s 80) :(

allreb (#502)

Ha, I totally loved this. I’ve had some shenanigans with my landlord too, but mostly because the leasing company just does not have their shit together. In June 2012 we signed a 2-year lease. They asked us if we were renewing it in May 2013 and it took several months to get it straightened out that actually, we had signed a steady rate for two years and would not accept a rent increase. (We had, in fact, lost our copy of the lease, because we’re very disorganized. But evidently either so had they, or they capitulated because my memory was correct, because after a strongly-worded letter with zero legal jargon whatsoever, they put our rent back where it belonged. They ALSO tend to lose track of the fact that we’ve paid and claim we have an outstanding payment due for 3 or 4 months at a time before correcting it. And last month they forgot to send us a statement entirely. Great job, leasing company!)

The spite thing makes me laugh. When the questions about our lease came up, I was complaining about it at a family party and my elderly cousin, who’s lived (and rented) in NY her whole life, jumped in to tell me which offices in the city I could contact for legal aid, where to find our renters’ rights, etc. Apparently, her landlord has been trying to kick her out for YEARS so he can convert her apartment to a condo and sell it. He tried to do it when her husband left her because he was the one who’d signed the original lease, and she had to prove that it had been her primary residence for over 10 years to get the lease updated to her name, among other shady tactics. So now she’s gone out of her way to make sure her apartment is considered her daughter’s primary residence, so that when she dies someday, her daughter can keep it at the same (presumably WAY under market value) rate. And she was pretty blunt about how she’s done this maybe 30% to help her daughter, and 70% to spite her landlord for trying to kick her out. (Incidentally, this elderly cousin of mine is *also* named Ann.)

Meaghano (#529)

@allreb Oh how I love capitulation. Also I talked to my neighbors about all this stuff (without mentioning I wrote about it on a website, whoops) for no less than an hour today, and they mentioned the getting your kids onto the lease thing, too! The building down our block burned down last year, and now it’s brand new and one of the old resident’s daughters pays less than $700/mo, when the first floor apartments are renting for $2700. Oof.

cryptolect (#1,135)

Moving to Cleveland, I love it! I presume you would buy Langston Hughes’s old house?

Meaghano (#529)

@cryptolect OBVI, haha

The nightmare landlord is a time-honored nightmare, and we all take our turn for sure. I’m sorry you are currently in the midst of it.
But wait, is the man you live with your ‘roommate’ or your previously-mentioned fiance? I mention it only because saying that you can’t move to Paris because your ‘roommate’ has a job in New York is confusing – roommates are usually less concerned about continuing to live together than, say, an engaged couple. So you could quite easily take off to Paris without your roommate, but I can see why you would prefer not to go without your fiance/husband.

Meaghano (#529)

@Lily Hudson@facebook Oh! He is my fiancé/partner/boyfriend-person. I guess I was just being coy/weird/avoiding saying the word fiancé because it sounds annoying.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Lily Hudson@facebook I was a little confused by that as well, but oh my god thanks for posting that. I haven’t seen it in so long and now that I’m in my 20s I can actually appreciate it (unlike when I was a teenager).
@Meaghano don’t worry, I think I still have yet to use the word “boyfriend” in my workplace, and that’s not even on the same level. I get it.

bgprincipessa (#699)

Completely impressed that you stuck to your guns. Our (non-stabilized) rent went up from $1595 to $1625 this year, and my boyfriend wanted to fight it. I was like, thanking the baby Jesus that it only went up $30.

pizza (#599)

@bgprincipessa that’s a dream! Less than inflation. Mine went up about $350 this year. That’s after I negotiated it down $50. But to be fair I am still paying way less than market value. Oh, the problems of moving into an apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood and staying for 7 years.

kstohl (#3,094)

sometime i should write the story of how i successfully got my entire deposit back from a shady landlord based on extensive legal research of california tenant laws. complete with handwritten pages from her, multiple checks (one that bounced) but with the end result of an email from her – “ok, you win, good job” and ALL my money back. what a pain. but worth it.

Meaghano (#529)

@kstohl I want to hear this story!

3jane (#645)

Once I am done with it (since I probably shouldn’t write about it before that), I will send you the story of me suing my landlady over this sort of thing (plus other stuff).

Meaghano (#529)

@3jane YES PLEASE.

owls (#5,025)

HA! to this: “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 have had this exact same conversation template with my landlord (regarding bedbug treatment, though). I guess we both got what we wanted, sort of — I got to not be illegally forced to pay extra money, she got to pretend she was winning. Now she hates me and is shitty to me in every single interaction but I WON. I WON.

Lawey (#5,150)

To the person whose rent was not calculated legally… I feel like, in general, people (including those corporations-are-people-too!) with a lot of means often use every advantage possible to use the law to their advantage and it’s fair play for an average citizen to ethically advocate for themselves, too. Here’s a bit of information that might apply to your situation…

Many years ago the Legislature and the Governor passed a law providing that there would be a four year statute of limitations in rent overcharge cases that would be so ironclad that it was to be prohibited for a court to even review a rental history beyond four years. As time has gone by judicial decisions have chipped away at that statute so as to render it meaningless in many important situations.

Generally speaking (and each case presents its own unique facts) the four year statute of limitations does or does not apply as follows:
1. When a court is going to determine if an apartment actually is rent stabilized, the Court can go back more than four years to make the determination;
2. When a court is going to award money to a tenant who has been the victim of a rent overcharge the Court will not award money to the tenant unless the initial overcharge took place within 4 years of the tenant”s claim (unless the tenant can demonstrate fraud) and;
3. When a court is going to determine what rent should be charged prospectively when it is apparent that there has been a rent overcharge the Court is likely to look back more than four years but this area is still being developed.

A recent case from the Appellate Division, First Department called Bogatin v. Windermere Owners, LLC, 98 A.D.3d 896, 950 N.Y.S.2d 707 (1st Dept. 2012) emphasizes again that the Courts will ignore the four year statute of limitations when status is being determined (and perhaps to award money damages when there has been fraud). In Bogatin, a tenant (unrepresented by counsel) started a lawsuit against his landlord in state court seeking relief due to his allegation that the landlord had fraudulently deregulated the subject apartment. The landlord moved to dismiss the lawsuit claiming that such an inquiry was barred by the four year statute of limitations. The Appellate Division affirmed the holding of the trial judge that the four year statute of limitations did not (or at least might not) apply because the issues to be determined were regulatory status and/or whether the landlord fraudulently sought to deregulate the apartment.

The lesson to be learned here is that landlords should hold onto their records because a claim coming after 4 years have elapsed may well be entertained.

In general, although the law is very fascinating for those who delve, I think it’s best to handle things in a personal and civil manner. However, your situation seems kind of egregious, and if nothing else, you should at least let the future tenant who moves in after you know about the situation. There should be some type of moral hazard and this kind of behavior should not be encouraged.

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