I’ve been living in a rent-stabilized apartment for over 30 years. A new LLC management company has taken over the building and issued a 20-page lease. Management also wants my social security number and tax ID number. Do I have to sign this lease and share this information?
The most important thing to know about rent-stabilized renewal leases is that they must have the same terms and conditions as your original lease, and be on an official Division of Homes and Community Renewal form, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph LLP who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“This will be a one-page form that says the lease is going to expire, offers a one or two year lease renewal, and specifies the rent increases, plus an instruction page,” he explains.
However, there are specific riders that your new landlord can legally add to the lease. One example is a rent stabilization rider, a document of several pages that sets forth the rights and obligations of rent-stabilized tenants, and sometimes details the rental history of the apartment.
If you have children in the apartment, you might also see a lead paint rider, in which the landlord specifies whether there is lead paint in the building, and a window guard rider. Some leases have bedbug riders as well.
There are also riders that the DHCR allows landlords to add, Himmelstein says: “If there's an application pending for MCIs [major capital improvements], the landlord is allowed to put in a rider stating that a rent increase will go into effect during the term of lease.”
If there is a pending petition for high-rent/high-income deregulation, there could also be a rider that allows the lease to be cancelled if the DHCR finds that the tenants’ total household income is above $200,000 a year for two consecutive years and they are living in stabilized apartments that have reached the deregulation rent threshold (currently $2,733.75 a month).
“In this case, there can be a rider that says the lease will be terminated 60 days after the issuance of an order, as opposed to when the lease expires,” Himmelstein says.
These additions to your lease could all be above board. “What they can’t do is have the tenant sign a brand-new lease with 30 paragraphs,” Himmelstein says. “If it's not on the correct form or if there are illegal attachments, the lease renewal is totally illegal.”
And if you’re uneasy about providing your social security number and tax ID, you’re not legally required to do so.
“You certainly don’t have to give your tax ID,” Himmelstein says. “As for your social security, a landlord may ask for this because they’re required to keep your security deposit in a separate bank account, and you’re legally entitled to the interest it collects.”
However, the law says that tenants can only collect interest based on the prevailing rate on a savings account (a fraction of a percent), minus a one percent administration fee. In other words, you’re highly unlikely to collect any interest on your security deposit.
“People are right to be nervous about giving their social security number to a landlord, because the landlord could use it to investigate them and do a credit check—which they can’t do if they’re already a tenant,” Himmelstein says.
If you have any doubts about whether your lease is legit, have a lawyer look at it. And if they find that it is in fact illegal, “write a letter to your landlord saying it’s an improper renewal lease offer because it’s not on a DHCR-approved form, and a brand new lease that’s not on the same terms as the original,” Himmelstein says.
In the letter, request a proper renewal lease with only riders permitted by law; if your landlord refuses to comply, file a complaint with the DHCR for a non-renewal of your lease.
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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.