There's intense competition for rentals now, but that doesn't mean you lack negotiating power. 

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Question:

During the pandemic, my landlord renewed my market-rate lease with no increase. Now they want to increase the rent 30 percent and I was only given a month’s notice. Can I push back? What are my options?

Answer:

Rents are skyrocketing, and demand for apartments is so high that bidding wars for rentals are common now, but that doesn’t mean you don't have any negotiating power, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

“Landlords seem to be hiking rents now because in the early days of the pandemic, in many cases, they didn’t increase rent, some tenants weren’t paying, and there were eviction moratoriums,” Himmelstein says. “Now they seem to be not only increasing rents but trying to make a killing, and this applies even when someone has been a good tenant.”

With far fewer apartments available on the market, landlords know that if a current tenant won’t accept a proposed rent increase, there lots of other renters eager to take their place.

But this doesn’t mean you have to immediately accept your landlord’s rent hike or move out. It’s still worth trying to negotiate—read our tips for how to approach this conversation.

It may also be a good idea to look into your apartment’s rental history, if you suspect it may have been illegally deregulated. Rental buildings with six or more units that were built before 1974 are supposed to be rent-stabilized, if they weren’t deregulated through legal means like vacancy increases, renewal increases, and major capital improvements. 

And in 2019, vacancy deregulation and high-rent and high-income deregulation were abolished, with apartments vacated since July of that year remaining stabilized, with only a small rent increase permitted. To find out if your apartment should be stabilized, request your apartment's registration history from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal to find out how much past tenants have been charged, and how much the rent has been raised.

“So many apartments have been illegally deregulated that it’s worth exploring, and if there’s credible evidence this happened, that gives you extra bargaining power,” Himmelstein says.

Indeed, there are strict limitations on how much landlords can increase rent on stabilized units, and you could be entitled to a major payday if your apartment was deregulated illegally. (For more information, see this Ask Sam column.)

You also have the option of subletting or assigning your apartment to someone else, if you decide to renew but then find that the higher rent is too much of a financial burden.

“New York State law gives you the right to sublet or assign your apartment to someone else,” Himmelstein says. “You have to come up with the assignee or subtenant, and they must be willing to pay rent and pass muster as an applicant.”

There are specific rules for subletting and assigning, including sending your landlord a notice of your intent with detailed information through certified mail. An important distinction is that if you sublet, you are still the tenant, whereas if you assign, a new tenant takes over the lease.

“If your landlord unreasonably refuses to consent to an assignment, you can be released from the lease,” Himmelstein says. “The tricky part is the definition of unreasonable—it’s hard to gauge. But it does give you a defense if you want to break the lease, and the landlord might not bother pursuing it, because they can easily turn around and get another tenant now.”

Finally, you can push back against your landlord’s proposed rent increase if conditions in your apartment are poor. If it’s possible to claim constructive eviction, or a violation of the Warranty of Habitability, you have more ammo to talk your landlord down from their rent hike.

Note too that under the current law, your landlord is required to give you a certain amount of notice if they plan not to renew your lease, or to raise the rent by more than five percent. They must give 30 days notice if you’ve lived in the apartment for less than a year, 60 days for a tenancy of one to two years, and 90 days for a tenancy of longer than two years. If your landlord hasn’t followed these rules, let them know—at the very least you may be able to buy yourself more time before you have to make a decision.

Related

Ask Sam: What are my rights as a NYC renter in a market-rate apartment? (sponsored) 

Ask Sam: How do I find out if my apartment should be rent-stabilized—and the landlord owes me money? (sponsored) 

Ask Sam: I owe six months of back rent. What happens now that evictions are allowed in NYC? (sponsored) 

Read all our Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer columns here.


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.

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