Ask Sam: If I become disabled, can I be moved to a ground floor unit and keep my rent-stabilized status?
I’m rent-stabilized in a walk-up building. If I become mobility impaired, can I keep my rent-stabilized status and terms if the landlord is willing to relocate me to a ground floor apartment? The ground floor apartments are no longer stabilized, so how would that work?
Ordinarily, when a tenant transfers apartments within a building, their rent-stabilized status cannot “travel” with them from one unit to the next unless both units are stabilized, but there is some ambiguity to this scenario.
Landlords must provide reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities, so this could mean you retain your stabilized status in the ground floor apartment in this scenario, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph, who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
But first it's important to understand that “an apartment is either rent-stabilized or it is not, and just because the landlord and lease say it’s rent stabilized doesn’t automatically confer rent-stabilized status,” Himmelstein says.
There are specific rules under which an apartment is officially rent stabilized: it must be in a building with six or more units built before 1974 or received a tax abatement, for instance. For more on what makes an apartment rent stabilized, check out: "How to find out your apartment's rent history."
However, there is an exception that may apply in your case: If a stabilized tenant moves from one apartment to another for the benefit of the landlord—for example, relocating so the landlord can move a family member into their original unit—they can take their stabilized status with them.
In your hypothetical situation, the relocation may serve to benefit both tenant and landlord. Under NYC’s Human Rights Law, landlords are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to tenants with disabilities. For a tenant who becomes mobility impaired and lives on a high floor in a walk-up building, this can mean relocating them.
“Moving the tenant to a ground-floor apartment would be a reasonable accommodation, and it would also enable the landlord to comply with the human rights law,” Himmelstein says. “The move wouldn’t qualify as a reasonable accommodation unless the new apartment was also rent stabilized.”
Under these specific circumstances, then, your stabilized status could travel with you. In order to make this happen, you must notify the landlord that you have become mobility impaired, provide evidence that you can no longer take the stairs, and request reasonable accommodation for a ground-floor apartment. And if your landlord refuses to comply, you can file a discrimination complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission.
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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 & 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.