Dear Sam: I just received papers from my landlord that claim that I have to leave because they're going to demolish my building and put up a high-rise. Can they do this? What are my rights? Am I entitled to relocation money?
While your landlord is definitely within their rights to sell or demolish the building and give you the boot, if your apartment is rent regulated, you should be entitled to a hefty buyout, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
But first things first: for your landlord's demolition plans to even be legitimate, they'll need to have followed proper city protocol. This involves sending you two documents: a copy of their initial application to demolish that's been submitted to the DHCR, as well as a notice of non-renewal of your lease, says Bill Gribben, a colleague of Himmelstein's who has worked on numerous demolition cases. And keep in mind that a lot of time often elapses in between the application and the DHCR's approval of demolition, and you're under no obligation to move until the DHCR issues a final order. (You can find more details on protocol here.)
If the demolition is indeed legit, tenants are entitled to one of three different types of stipends. The landlord can move you into housing at the same or lower regulated rent than what you pay now, and throw in an additional $5K in moving expenses; they can move you into a pricier rental and agree to pay the different for the next six years; or they can offer up a lump sum buyout based on the number of rooms in your apartment and how much you've been paying.
The buyout is by far the most common option, and if you play your cards right, you're likely to wind up with a million dollars or more, says Himmelstein. The landlord has likely sold the building to developers, who are beholden to lenders and whose contracts involve specific timetables, meaning that it's in everyone's best interest to avoid a long, drawn-out case that delays construction for several years.
"What happens here is that they budget a certain amount of money for tenant buyouts into these projects, and approach the tenants for negotiations," says Himmelstein. "Tenants are almost always looking at seven figure settlements." Don't go to the landlord directly unless you've gotten a notice from the DHCR that requires action within a certain timeframe—in this case, you can request an extension while you seek out legal counsel.
To up your chances of a large buyout—and make the process more streamlined for everyone involved—Himmelstein recommends talking to your neighbors, forming a tenant association, then as a group hiring a lawyer with demolition experience. "What gets people the biggest buyouts in these cases is being able to deliver a vacant building to the landlord," he says. "So if everyone is working together, that’s when the biggest money is going to be thrown around."
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.