Our landlord is selling our building. What can we do to protect ourselves?
- Request a copy of your apartment’s rent history from DHCR
- Renewing your lease can provide you with a degree of security
- Forming a tenant's association can be helpful in these situations
Emily Myers for Brick Underground
Our lease is up in a few months and we found out the landlord is selling our building. Is there anything that we can do now to make this a smooth transition for us? Or are we at the whim of the new owner?
It can be unsettling to find out a new landlord is buying the building in which you rent. You may be wondering how the new owner will run the place and what kind of changes you’ll see.
This might be particularly worrying considering how private-equity backed landlords are buying rental properties in New York City and some tenants in these buildings have seen conditions deteriorate. Some of these firms have been accused of pushing out lower-paying tenants in order to bring in new ones who will pay higher rents.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published in December 2022. We are presenting it with updated information for May 2023.]
If the building is going to be under new ownership, the options you have to protect yourself will depend on whether you are a rent-regulated or market-rate tenant. It's worth finding out your rent history to see if you are in a stabilized apartment. It's possible it has been illegally deregulated. You can also renew your lease to give you some security. Getting to know your neighbors and forming a tenants' association can also increase your leverage with the new owner.
Request your apartment’s rent history
Your first step should be to get a copy of your apartment’s rent history from New York State’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal. “This is crucial,” says Jennifer Rozen, managing attorney at Rozen Law Group. If it turns out you are in a rent-stabilized apartment, the landlord cannot evict you and must renew your lease.
A reminder: Tenants in rent-stabilized apartments are entitled to automatic lease renewals—so you can’t be evicted if you pay your rent on time and abide by your lease. Your rent can’t be raised more than the percentages set annually by the Rent Guidelines Board (even if that agency, last year, approved the biggest increases in a decade).
Generally apartments will be rent stabilized if the building has six or more apartments and the construction was completed prior to 1974, says Steven Kirkpatrick, a partner at the law firm Romer Debbas.
If you can find out what the last tenant paid, you can make sure you aren't overcharged by an incoming landlord. To get your rent history, you need to contact DHCR’s rent administration office at 718-739-6400 or get the information online. You can also check out the site Am I Rent Stabilized?
“There’s no downside to requesting a rent history,” Kirkpatrick says. If the rent history indicates your apartment is rent stabilized, you have less to worry about, however you will still be dealing with a new owner who will run the building differently.
The question of how to find out if your apartment is rent stabilized came up recently during Brick Underground Office Hours—a live forum where questions were put to tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, & Joseph (and Brick Underground sponsor). To find out about our next event subscribe to our newsletter.
Renew your lease
If you are not rent stabilized, getting your current landlord to extend your lease for as long as possible is “the second-best option,” Rozen says. A lease renewal for another year or possibly two provides you with a degree of security even if and when the building is sold. Of course, two-year leases may include a further rent increase for the second year.
“At least you have a lease, you have certainty, you know you are not going to get a big rent increase or be told you have to leave, so there is protection there,” Kirkpatrick says.
Form a tenant's association
If you don’t know your neighbors, now’s the time to introduce yourself.
Banding together with the other renters in your building can give you extra leverage if your new landlord comes in and you don’t like what they do—or don’t do. You are legally entitled to form a tenant association and forming a group actually gives you extra protections against eviction or retaliatory behavior by the landlord.
Creating a tenant’s association also means you can split legal fees if and when the need arises.
Tenant associations are typically formed if conditions are deteriorating or the character of the building is changing significantly for the worse.
“It’s a lot of work—it’s more of an extreme measure,” Kirkpatrick says. However, looking at the longer term, he says “getting to know your neighbors is generally a good thing.” It can also help with communication if a problem does develop further down the road.
Find out who your new landlord really is
When a landlord buys a building, they often use a limited liability corporation to hide their identities. Check out Who Owns What in NYC to help you identify your new landlord. You can also search the Automated City Register Information System for property records to give you clues about the new ownership.
If you do request your NYC rent history and find your apartment is rent stabilized, consider sharing your experience with Brick readers. Send us an email. We’d love to hear your story and respect all requests for anonymity.
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