My landlord sent me a lease renewal with a 20 percent rent increase but without the required 60 days notice. When I pointed this out, I was told I could pay the new rent when my lease is up, or get an additional month at the same rate to fulfill the 60-day notice and then the rent would jump by 27 percent. Do I have to accept these tactics even though they're bending the law?
Your landlord is indeed bending the law, but you’re somewhat limited in what you can do about it if you want to stay in the apartment, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
Changes to the rent laws passed in 2019 require that landlords give market-rate tenants who have lived in an apartment for more than one year at least 60 days notice if they intend to raise the rent by at least five percent. (They must give tenants who have lived in the unit more than two years 90 days notice.)
However, the law does not stipulate what to do when a landlord fails to give the required notice.
“The law gives no clear remedies for what to do if landlords violate the requirement for giving notice of rent increases,” Himmelstein says. “It’s up to tenants, lawyers, and the courts to figure out what the remedies are.”
You have a couple options for how to proceed here. First, note that whatever you do, a lease renewal does not go into effect until it has been signed by both parties and delivered to the tenant. If you sign and return the lease, but your landlord doesn't it back to you signed, it’s not effective.
This means renters must walk a fine line when they negotiate renewal increases, because the landlord could always decline to renew the lease. In this case, they would have to send the required notice to the tenant that the lease would not be renewed. The notice periods for nonrenewals are the same as they are for the 5 percent or more rent increases.
If a landlord declines to renew the lease because you’ve pushed back on a proposed rent increase, it could be considered a retaliatory eviction, which is illegal, but also difficult to prove.
In your case, one option is to sign and return the lease but not start paying the increase right away.
“The tenant could sign the lease with the 20 percent increase and get it back countersigned, but then take the position that the rent increase can’t go into effect until 60 days have passed, because that’s what the law requires,” Himmelstein says.
This comes with risks: The landlord could try to sue you for the unpaid rent. But doing so for the increase of two months’ rent may be more trouble than it’s worth.
“Is the landlord going to take the tenant to court over two months with a 20 percent increase? Probably not,” Himmelstein says. “It would cost more to hire a lawyer to take the tenant to court for what probably amounts to a few hundred dollars.”
It’s not an impossibility, though, and there’s always the chance that doing this would make your landlord less inclined to renew your lease again a year from now.
“If you do this and the landlord does serve you with a rent demand, at that point you could just pay it and avoid a court case,” Himmelstein says. “It just may not be worth the fight.”
Your other option is to simply go with the flow, even though your landlord is not following the law.
“The tenant could just suck it up and pay the increase, even though they didn’t get the proper notice,” Himmelstein says. “This is a classic example of how being a market tenant can mean you’re at the mercy of the landlord, even though there are laws on the book to protect you. The reality is sometimes you just have to look the other way.”
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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.