Dear Sam: I've lived for 19 years in my private house without a lease—13 years with my first landlord, and six years with the new one. The new landlord is always hassling me about noise, sitting with his door open and staring, and he recently raised my rent from $1,200 to $1,300. He even tried to evict me, but on the advice of a city agency, I told him he'd have to actually take me to court to kick me out. Since then, he's tried to raise my rent to $1,500, though it's only been a verbal notification, no formal lease. What are my rights in this situation?
Since it sounds like you live in a two-family home, according to New York law, you'd have to have been living there since 1953 for your apartment to be rent controlled or rent-stabilized. "If you were in a larger apartment building and were there for 19 years, in most instances, you'd be stabilized," Himmelstein explains. "But in this case, your position is similar to that of a market-rate tenant."
However, keep in mind that rent is an agreement, not a decree. "People have this notion that the landlord can just say 'this is the rent,' but rent is a contract, it can't just be imposed," says Himmelstein. "The landlord can say 'I'm charging you x amount' and you can agree, in which case it's a binding agreement even if it's not in writing. But if you say no, the landlord can either accept you paying a lower rent, or evict you."
If your landlord opts to evict, he'll have to service you with a 30-day termination notice, which will need to end your tenancy on a date that falls at the end of a typical rental period, e.g. the 15th or the 30th of the month. Once they serve notice, it's likely they'll take you to court on what's known as a "holdover," a specific type of eviction lawsuit. In these types of cases, the court has the power to give you up to six months to find a new place. The amount of time you get is usually determined by need, based on factors like income, family size, and if you're elderly or disabled. If you and your landlord can't agree on what you'll pay in between now and when you move out, the court can also set what it believes to be a fair market rent for your apartment.
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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.