Ask Sam: Are landlords less likely to take NYC tenants to housing court because of the new rent laws?
It’s been 16 months since the new rent laws were passed. What has the impact been on New York City’s rent-stabilized and market-rate tenants?
The Housing Stability and Protection Act, passed by the New York state legislature last year, has significantly reduced litigation and evictions for New York City’s rent-stabilized and non-stabilized tenants, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
"The HSTPA did away with vacancy deregulation, which let landlords deregulate rent-stabilized apartments after the tenants moved out and the rent reached a certain threshold,” Himmelstein says. “Since they did away with that, landlords no longer have an economic incentive to pursue holdover proceedings [eviction cases in housing court].”
Several specific types of cases have dropped off considerably as a result of the legislation:
- Non-primary residence cases: Before the passage of the HSTPA, one of the most common reasons stabilized tenants were evicted was because the landlord claimed that the tenant was not using their apartment as a primary residence—that is, spending less than six month of the year there. This has become a concern for some New Yorkers who have been spending time outside the city since the outbreak of coronavirus, but most landlords have stopped bringing these cases to housing court since they can’t hike the rent after evicting tenants.
- Succession cases: “Landlords are consenting to succession requests, which is when a family member dies or moves out and the relative living with them wants to succeed them on the lease,” Himmelstein says. Previously, succeeding a relative in a rent-stabilized apartment could be a lot more challenging: tenants had to provide documentation proving their relationship to the leaseholder and that they had lived with them in the apartment for specific periods of time.
“The vast majority of landlords are either asking for documentation and granting the request after receiving the documents, or in some cases not asking for documentation at all,” Himmelstein says. This shift, again, is due to how the HSTPA has ended vacancy deregulation and significantly limited landlords’ ability to raise the rent on stabilized apartments after a tenant has moved out, by performing renovations to the unit or building.
- Owner-use cases: Before the HSTPA, landlords could refuse to renew rent-regulated leases on the grounds that they needed the apartment for themselves or their family. They only had to prove that they had the intention to use the apartment in this way in order to kick out the tenant. This type of case has completely disappeared, Himmelstein says: “Now landlords can only recover one apartment per building, and they have to show an immediate and compelling necessity for it.” Furthermore, all tenants who have lived in their stabilized apartments for 15 years or more—as well tenants over 62 and tenants with disabilities—are legally entitled to being relocated to a similar apartment at the same or lower rent. “Before the new laws, these cases were 10 percent of my practice, and now they’re gone,” Himmelstein says.
- Breach of lease cases: If a tenant breaks their lease and moves out before the end of the lease, they’re less likely to be sued by their landlord for doing so. Under the HSTPA, landlords have to prove they tried to mitigate damages by attempting to re-rent the apartment at the same rate or market rent, whichever is lower, in order to take the tenant to court. “If the apartment went un-rented for a month or two, the landlord could sue for that, as long as they were making an effort to re-rent it,” Himmelstein says. “But they’re much less likely to sue over what would amount to only a few thousand dollars in damages.” As a result, there are fewer lease breach cases than in previous years.
- Sublets: Landlords are also less likely to fight stabilized tenants when they request to sublet their apartment. In fact, since they can legally charge a 10 percent rent surcharge to subletters, landlords may be more likely to allow this, since it’s one of the few ways they can increase the rent.
- Notice requirements: Market-rate tenants are now legally entitled to a certain amount of notice if the landlord plans to not renew their leases:, end their tenancies or raise their rent more than 5 percent. For those who have lived in the apartment for more than a year, it’s 60 days, and for those who have lived there more than two years, it’s 90 days. With more time for tenants to find another apartment and move out, there has been a drop in holdover cases related to tenants ignoring lease expirations.
- Security deposits: The HSTPA has made it easier for all tenants to get their security deposits back after they move out, as the law requires landlords to return the deposit within 14 days if they haven’t inspected the apartment and provided an itemized list of damages. “These cases are easier to pursue now,” Himmelstein says. “We recommend tenants file them at the New York State Attorney General’s office instead of going to small claims court.”
Tenants should note it is still possible to be sued by their landlords for other reasons, like creating a nuisance, although new cases won’t be heard for some time due to the coronavirus pandemic. For more information, see our list of situations when rent-stabilized tenants can be evicted in NYC.
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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.