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Probably illegal destabalization--alternatives to lawyers?

Posted by Stacy on July 27, 2000 at 13:34:22:

I'm in a $1400/mo studio (one year lease) in a pre-1974, six-unit building with some stabalized units. My lease says my apartment is deregulated. I obtained the rent history from DHCR; it shows a high-rent vacancy deregulation in 1998 (after 10 years of temporary exemption because of commercial occupation). The listed rent for the entire period, including 1998, is $0.

I've already consulted with a lawyer, and she agreed that this looks extremely dubious. My options for dealing with the situation appear to be a) file a DHCR overcharge complaint (which I've been advised against numerous times), or b) start witholding rent (after sending a certified letter and all that) and deal with the situation in housing court.

I apparently have legal grounds to start witholding rent, since I was also charged an illegal broker's fee (key money) by the managing agent when I moved in. Trouble is, every lawyer I've check with predicts this will cost thousands of dollars to fight in court--and I just don't have that kind of money. (I know I'd be likely to get it back in the end, but it's still too much to field up front.) Still, I hate to let these scummy landlords get away with the deregulation because I can't afford to fight it.

Has anyone here ever gone to housing court over a witholding/overcharge case without a lawyer? Am I likely to screw up badly if I try?

Thanks in advance.

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