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Can my landlord really raise my rent 50 percent because the building's J-51 tax abatement expired?

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Question:

I just got my lease renewal, which lays out an increase of nearly 50 percent from my current rent. The reason the landlord gives is the recent expiration of the J-51 tax abatement for our building. Is this correct, and can I do anything to stay in my apartment without paying this new, much higher rent?

Answer:

For your landlord's proposed rent hike to be legitimate, he or she will need to have followed some very specific protocol since you first started renting, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (FYI, also a Brick sponsor).

It is, however, legal for landlords to make apartments market-rate once the tax abatement expires, as long as they weren't already previously rent-stabilized before receiving the J-51. But this is only true if tenants like you are properly notified of the situation from the get-go, and have included a clause about the J-51 abatement in every subsequent renewal lease, says Himmelstein.

"If the tenant had a clause in their original lease—and in every renewal—that stated that the tenancy was subject to rent-stabilization by virtue of the J-51 abatement, and gave approximate dates for when the abatement was scheduled to expire, then the landlord is free to raise your rent or decline to renew the lease [now that the abatement has expired and you're market-rate]," Himmelstein explains.

In other words, there should have been a rider included with every one of your leases explaining the details of the abatement, as well as giving you a timeline of when it would expire and your rent might go up. If you're not sure, then it's time to start digging through old paperwork.

"If that clause was missing from any lease, then the apartment will remain stabilized," says Himmelstein. 


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