Can I fight an 80 percent rent hike for my Brooklyn apartment?
- You must get adequate advance notice of a rent increase of 5 percent or more
- Look up your apartment's rent history with DHCR to see whether it is rent stabilized
- If you recently complained about building conditions, you may have a retaliatory eviction claim
I've rented the same first-floor apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone for 21 years. The elderly owners handed management to their adult children, who are raising my rent by 80 percent to $4,700. Other tenants didn't get such extreme rent hikes and it feels personal. Are there any legal grounds to fight this?
Your landlord cannot increase the rent more than five percent unless you are given the required advance notice, our experts say. In this case, because you’ve lived in the apartment for more than two years, you should be given 90 days' notice of a rent increase.
“This procedural protection is not a way to fight the increase, it's just a way to delay it,” says tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, & Joseph (and a Brick Underground sponsor). If it is a market-rate apartment, the landlord is permitted to increase the rent as much as they want, provided they give you adequate notice.
If your landlord did not give you the required notice, you can point this out and they will likely reissue the notice with the correct notice period.
However, Himmelstein says rent is a contractual agreement. “If the parties can’t agree, then it might end up in court, and the court will set the rent,” he says.
There are several routes you might take to challenge this increase, depending on whether you are in a stabilized apartment or are the subject of discrimination or retaliation.
Check the stabilized status of the apartment
It’s always important to check the stabilized status of your apartment. In a rent-stabilized apartment, you are entitled to automatic renewals. In addition, annual rent increases cannot exceed the percentages approved by the Rent Guidelines Board. In recent years, this has been around 3 percent. So an 80 percent increase would not be allowed in a rent-stabilized apartment.
“If the building has six or more units and you can get the rent history, you can see whether or not an argument could be made that the apartments are really stabilized,” Himmelstein says.
A building with rent-stabilized apartments is typically one with six or more apartments, built from 1947 to 1974. You can request a copy of your rent history from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and this will help you determine whether the apartment has been unlawfully deregulated. Jennifer Rozen, managing attorney at Rozen Law Group, recommends all tenants request a copy of their rent history in case the unit is rent stabilized on the basis of the landlord receiving tax benefits.
Fighting an increase on grounds of discrimination
The New York City Human Rights Law makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against people in protected classes, which includes age, color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and your status as a veteran or active military service member.
“If you are in a category protected under the city’s Human Rights Law and the landlord is not increasing the rent for other similarly situated people, you may be able to file a complaint,” Himmelstein says.
Defending yourself against retaliation
If the rent increase is being done because you recently complained about something in the building—a leak or repair—you may be able to argue that this amounts to a retaliatory eviction.
This would be a defense used in housing court when the landlord sues for possession of the apartment in a holdover proceeding. Rozen says this could buy you some additional time before you have to vacate. “The retaliatory eviction statute applies to all tenants except those that reside in owner-occupied buildings that contain fewer than four units,” she says.
However, winning a retaliation eviction case is not going to secure a long-term tenancy. In this situation, the landlord is only required to extend your lease by one year at the same rate.
“It’s one of those laws that looks good on the books but it’s really hard to win in court on a retaliation claim, and even if you do, all you get out of it is another year,” Himmelstein says. You may decide it is not worth the battle.
The court can set the rent
If you and the landlord do not agree on the rent increase and you decide not to pay the higher rent, you will likely end up in housing court.
If the landlord sues for the higher rent, Himmelstein says the case would probably be dismissed because there was no agreement to pay that rent. A more likely scenario is that the landlord would initiate a holdover proceeding for possession of the apartment.
"The tenant would pay the prior rent while the case was pending," Himmelstein says. However, if the landlord wins the case, the court would then set the rent.
If the court sets the rent, it will be at the fair market rate. This may or may not be close to $4,700, depending on the size of the apartment and its location.
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