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Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sat Jul 11, 2020 9:27 am

Hello, I’m here to get some guidance on the implications of breaking a rent-stabilized lease (details below). I want to move to a new building and would like to find out about others experiences with requesting to be released from a rent-stabilized lease. My lease has a section about subletting/ assigning and possible penalties, but I’m wondering if anyone has had the experience where the landlord was happy to recover the apartment so they could renovate and raise the rent. I currently pay $1200 while a new tenant would pay $1650.

I’ve also reached out to the NY Bar Referral service for a consultation with an attorney, so that will happen next week.


Background:
I’ve lived in my rent-stabilized apartment for 8 years now and am currently entering the second half of my 2 year lease. A new tenant recently moved in above me and has completely put an end to the quiet I once enjoyed in my home. I understand that occasional sounds of life are expected (walking, items falling, moving furniture etc) and I tolerate those quite well, however her behavior has been excessive. Loud music, fighting, friends visiting and (literally) running around the apartment like kids at a park, loud telephone conversations (apparently her conversational tone is loudly projecting her voice). I have literally been woken out of sleep in the middle of the night by the sound of her voice. The latest nuisance is the straw that broke the camel’s back. She has apparently installed speakers/ surround sound to her TV and I now feel as though I live beneath a movie theater.

She watches tv ALL DAY. At first, this was limited to weekends, but since the start of July, she’s now watching tv ALL DAY LONG. I’ve woken up as early as 6:45am on a weekday to be greeted by the sounds from her tv. I’ve spoken to this tenant twice in April about her general noisiness, left a note in May reminding her that noise from her apartment is audible on the floor beneath her and last week left her another note about the sounds from her tv and asking her to invest in soundproofing for her apartment. In this note, I also restated the sections from our lease that specifically mention disturbing other residents with loud tv watching.

I have also reached out to the management company (since April) via multiple emails, through my building’s super and via telephone. I have pleaded with them for help, to no avail. On the phone, they transfer me to the “noise complaint department” where no one ever answers the phone. At this point I believe it to be an inside joke.

Living underneath this chaos is bringing on symptoms of anxiety daily and I’m also experiencing headaches associated with stress.

Thank you for your help.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby TenantNet » Sat Jul 11, 2020 10:52 am

Breaking a lease always involves common-sense actions from the tenant, but since the passage of HSTPA, things are different (probably better) and with COVID, it calls for special attention.

We've written a lot on this forum about things to do, so we won't repeat everything. Just search the forum.

When moving during mid-lease, understand that a lease is a contract that you will pay a certain rent each month FOR THE DURATION of the lease. It used to be that a LL could hold a tenant to that, but the 2019 law re-introduced the need for landlords to "mitigate" their economic loss. So search the forum for the word mitigate.

At the end of a lease, the tenancy is over unless renewed or held over; you would be expected to leave. But mid-lease - even if not required by law - you should notify the LL in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested. I would send a notice at least 30 days in advance. Do everything by cert mail even if already done in person or by email. Do it again. Your lease might have notice requirements.

Deposits - some tenants will withhold the last month's rent to "re-acquire" the deposit. Some might say this is illegal. We say it's done a lot. Too many LLs refuse to return deposits. However, tenants would still be liable for real damage, not the invented damages LLs come up with.

Make sure you don't leave any roommates or occupants behind. Leave nothing behind. Clean the place to "broom clean."

Ask for a walk through with the LL. Take many photos. Have a witness with you. Have the LL sign off that the place is OK, or list the items that you can agree on that are damaged. An item that is worn by it being used in its expected manner ... that's not damage. For example, worn carpets are expected to become worn over time by being walked on.

Make sure the keys are turned over - send by cert mail or hand them over with a witness and get a receipt for the keys. Without a provable transfer of possession, the LL could continue to seek rent.

Yes, assigning is one option. LLs are not supposed to reasonably refuse this, but they do. Go with the law on assignment, not what the lease says. Actually I find it very messy and would avoid it.

LLs can no longer raise the rents by huge amounts since 2019. The incentive is no longer great. And with COVID, they want rent payments that are stable.

So how do you figure a new tenant would pay $1650? That seems to be a huge jump these days.

When you go to the Bar, make sure the person is a TENANT lawyer, not a LL lawyer or just someone who occasionally does LLT law.

As for your reasons for moving, document it. Keep a diary of what happens and when. Record the noise if you can. Notify the LL in writing by cert mail.

Noisy tenants are always difficult to deal with. Many tenant lawyers won't take these cases because of the difficulty to litigate, and it puts tenant against tenant. At the same time I know what it's like. If you are otherwise OK with the building and LL, see if the LL has any other units in the building, or in other buildings. Might smooth things over for both sides. But I would deal with the LL or agent, not the super.

If warranted - you said it's impacting you. Get a doctor's statement.

BTW, if you have had COVID, some say to tell the LL as that might kick-in various obligations by the LL and maybe protections for the tenant.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:07 pm

Thank you so much! Regarding the jump in rent to $1650, this building lists available units on Street Easy and Craigslist, so I was able to observe that the current going rate for a unit like mine is $1650. This new price comes after a renovation and upgrade to stainless steel appliances (microwave included), new doors, new door and cupboard hardware, kitchen and bathroom retiling.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby TenantNet » Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:59 pm

But is that the price for an unregulated unit?

The RGB sets the lease increases, but DHCR regulates IAI (apt improvements). See https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documen ... eet-26.pdf

Before 2019, LL's did IAI's to get the rent high and then deregulated the unit. Now they can no longer deregulate and IAIs have further restrictions.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sat Jul 11, 2020 1:47 pm

TenantNet wrote:But is that the price for an unregulated unit?

The RGB sets the lease increases, but DHCR regulates IAI (apt improvements). See https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documen ... eet-26.pdf

Before 2019, LL's did IAI's to get the rent high and then deregulated the unit. Now they can no longer deregulate and IAIs have further restrictions.


I assume that they are regulated, but this is another area that confuses me. My lease has a Rent Stabilization Exemption Rider that states that my lease and apartment are not subject to rent stabilization law, however, all of the lease renewals I've received were on the rent-stabilized renewal form that you've referenced in other posts. The lease renewals were also in the percentage amounts agreed on by the governing body.

I would assume that all of the other units have the same lease and are therefore stabilized?

Note: The new $1650 price is for a new tenant arriving after a vacancy. Based on the link you shared, it is odd that they set the same new price for each unit. If you care to learn more, I'll gladly send you a link where you can see the prices they've charged over time.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby TenantNet » Sat Jul 11, 2020 2:02 pm

Is the building or units affected by 421(a), J-51 or other 80-20 type program?

Can you send us a copy of the Exemption rider? This might be a special program for the building. Getting renewal with the RTP-8 renewal form does not, in itself, make a unit stabilized. You have to look at everything.

Also do not assume all units in the building have the same deal or same lease.

Do NOT EVER rely on Craig's List or other websites for such information. That is usually just an estimate or a broker who is just guessing.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sat Jul 11, 2020 2:58 pm

I've sent you a private message
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby TenantNet » Sat Jul 11, 2020 4:29 pm

OK, I DLed the docs you sent. On the exemption rider, was this part of the original lease? Or added at some later renewal? I ask because leases must be renewed on the same terms and conditions as the expiring lease.

Was the original lease a RS lease? Did they give you the 11 page informational rider from DHCR? Did any of the renewal leases have the informational rider attached? The DHCR rider is at https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documen ... RA-LR1.pdf

Did you sign and return the Exemption rider. This was provided by the LL and not DHCR. There are programs - like the ones I mentioned - where units may be exempted from regulation at some time in the future.

Seems to me that you might have some leverage to file a complaint and - at a minimum - get DHCR to look at it, and force the LL to justify it. If there is evidence that the unit should be RS, then this rider, in my opinion, means nothing. They use it for intimidation mostly. But again, it all depends on overall history of the unit.

On the renewal you sent me, did it say RTP-8 in small letters at the bottom? I think the latest (2020) version of this form is at https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documen ... /rtp-8.pdf
but don't get too caught up in the version date.

Make sure you read carefully the instructions on the back of this form. This is how things are supposed to work.

This renewal is dated to expire 7/31/19, so I presume - for 2 years - you have maybe 12 months left.

No 5. says no rider is attached. They seem to use the RGB percentages, but they don't say on this page that it's RS. They also say the rent can be increased by a DHCR order ... which is only for RS units.

They also have a paragraph for SCRIE/DRIE - which are used only for RS units.

Seems there are 2 co-signers. Will the second person be leaving when you leave? If one stays, it can be complicated.

I don't think the date stamp from a previous year would make much difference. At the top it seems they sent it to you in April 2019. So that's between 90 and 150 days.

Overall this seems suspect and fishy. But I often see LLs engage in such nonsense. Without a complete investigation, I can't say if the unit should be RS or not. If it were me, I'd look closer and file a complaint. You might get an overcharge award. Not guaranteed though. (and you can file a complaint even if you move).

And if deemed to be RS, then that would benefit the next tenant. Have you asked your neighbors if they've looked into this stuff? Again, this might be leverage.

Also, I spend about a minute Googling the address and name of the owner:

"DHCR B___ H___" and found some interesting things. I would poke around and see if there are other similar cases tenants brought against this LL.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sat Jul 11, 2020 8:28 pm

This is a wealth of knowledge, thank you!! To answer your questions:

1. The exemption rider was included in the very first lease I signed in 2012.

2. I did not receive the 11 page DHCR informational rider on my original lease and none of my renewals have had the DHCR rider attached.The only thing attached to my renewals have been notices about lead paint, lease rider on mold, procedure for gas leaks and a window guard form. Printed at the top of the first page of my original lease is "THIS LEASE AND THE APARTMENT THAT IT COVERS IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE RENT STABILIZATION LAW." >> I guess this answers my question :lol: :lol:

3. After receiving your reply to my message, I filled out the form for DHCR to send me the rent history for my unit.

4. No, the form does not say RTP-8 at the bottom of the form, however everything else on the Instructions to Owner/ Instructions to Tenant page is identical. I have never received a copy of the DHCR Lease Rights Rider with my renewals. And yes, I notice that No. 5 states that the rider is not attached. Why then would the instructions inform me that I should expect to receive it? :|

5. The signature that appears to be a co-signer is the signature of the employee from the management company. She happened to stamp her name above the "Owner's signature" line.

6. Re: Googling the apartment and owner...my unit is not in the B__ H___ complex. The name is on the the top of the Renewal form. I'll search around to see what comes up for that.

Thank you again!! This has been eye opening. I'll wait to hear back from DHCR and see how to proceed next. I'd definitely like to clear up the stabilized/ not stabilized issue.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby TenantNet » Sun Jul 12, 2020 12:22 am

Aside from their use of what appears to be a clone of the RTP-8 form, they seem not to be providing any of the usual RS items. Still doesn't answer the question though. If they had provided the exemption rider later, that might have been helpful as a tenant could claim they tried to change the terms.

Once you get the rent history from DHCR, that might provide more information. Before COVID it might have taken 1-2 weeks, but not sure about now. They claim to be keeping up, but many are working remotely.

Other notices such as lead paint are required by the city and are not related to rent stabilization.

The line at the top of the original lease is not dispositive. What matters is an analysis of the rent history and what - if any - are the reasons for any claim by the LL for deregulation. Depending on all that, the tenant could file a challenge.

Up until last year, most de-regulations occurred because of high rent or high income. (the use of the high income was used a lot less). So if a LL got the rent up over the threshold, they could claim it was deregulated. But many rent increases were bogus, often claiming improvements that did not happen, or inflating the costs (the happened a lot with the Trump company) of improvements that were made. That all changed last year. There is still a statute of limitations on overcharges, but a challenge to the RS status is not limited by time. If you can prove fraud, then all the better.

Now, much of this has little to do with breaking a lease. As I said, it can be leverage if you're going to move anyway. I definitely would ask neighbors if anyone has previously challenged the RS status.

Also you should look at this list:
https://rentguidelinesboard.cityofnewyo ... ing-lists/

to see if your building is on the list. If there are RS units in the building, that might be good for the overall argument. They could still claim high rent deregulation however.
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Re: Guidance on breaking a rent-stabilized lease

Postby kare_bear » Sun Jul 12, 2020 11:03 am

All of this was amazingly helpful. Thank you so much!
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