What we can learn from a man who found out his landlord owes him more than $100,000

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Sometimes, spending years in a rental with a rat problem and holes in the floor can really, truly pay off—to the tune of $112,000, in the case of one lucky (and persistent) Hamilton Heights renter. 

After six years paying $1,300 a month for a four-bedroom on Saint Nicholas Avenue, Ramon Hernandez found out that the legal rent for the apartment was actually $233, with the help of tenant advocacy group Pa'Lante—and a tip-off from a neighbor, DNAinfo reports. As it turned out, the rent had been frozen in 1993 thanks to a former tenant's complaints about unrepaired doors, windows, and kitchen appliances, which the landlord never fixed before jacking up the rent. After filing a DHCR complaint in 2012, last June, Hernandez was awarded a whopping $112,000 in rent overcharges.

While this is unquestionably the apartment equivalent of winning the lottery, it's taken Hernandez a lot of time and effort to win all that cash, and since his landlord is still appealing the case, he hasn't seen a dime of his money yet. In the meantime, management has tried to evict him for non-payment (he'd briefly stopped paying rent due to an injury and lost hours at work), and in a separate incident, he was offered a $50,000 buyout to drop the case.

All of which is a valuable reminder that you can't count on your lease to tell the entire story (though if your apartment is rent-stabilized, landlords are required to notify you in the lease). Instead, check into public documents to see if your building is on the city's list of stabilized buildings and what your apartment's rent history is—if something seems fishy, we've got a guide to determining your apartment's legal status (and how much money you might be owed). And tempting though it may be, don't rush to accept a landlord's offer of a lump sum cash buyout—your stabilized lease (and your willingness to stay out of court) could be worth more than you think.


Ask Sam: How do I find out of if my apartment should be rent-stabilized, and if the landlord owes me money? [sponsored]

New Yorkers' biggest misconceptions about rent-stabilization

Landlord wants to buy you out? How to name your price--plus real-life examples from $15K to $1 million

What's a buyout really worth? Use this calculator to figure it out

My exasperating, enlightening, ultimately successful search for rent-stabilized digs

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