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I live in Parker Towers, a huge rent-stabilized apartment complex in Queens that is being sold to Blackstone Group, the same company that bought Stuy Town in Manhattan. I'm afraid I'll be pushed out by rising rents. What is likely to happen next? What are my rights? How can I and the other tenants protect ourselves?'
If you’re concerned that your new landlord may try to push out stabilized tenants in order to rent more apartments at market rate, there are several red flags to watch for, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“Landlords looking to maximize profit may try to make life miserable for the rent regulated tenants so that they move out,” Himmelstein says.
One method that landlords employ to accomplish this is to identify tenants who the landlord believes may not be abiding by rent stabilization laws that require them to reside in their apartments for at least 183 days of the year. Landlords may also be on the lookout for tenants who are subletting their apartments illegally.
“Sometimes they’ll start investigating and do a sweep to see if stabilized tenants own property in other states,” Himmelstein says. “They may install cameras in hallways looking for evidence that a tenant’s apartment is not their primary residence, or that they are renting out their apartment on Airbnb. They may be looking to evict people if they find vulnerabilities. And they will often serve legal notices and file eviction cases based on the flimsiest evidence, in situations where their claims have no merit, in order to frighten tenants into moving out.”
The first step to protecting yourself, then, is to familiarize yourself with the rules for evicting rent-stabilized tenants, and make sure you’re not giving the landlord any grounds to kick you out.
Another way that landlords put pressure on regulated tenants to move out is by undertaking disruptive construction projects on the building. Such construction can serve to increase the value of vacant apartments and bring them over the rent stabilization threshold, so they can be rented at market rate; it can also prove enough of a nuisance to the lives of renters that they decide to leave.
“Sometimes we get the feeling that landlords are not being careful about how they do the work because they want to make peoples lives more uncomfortable,” Himmelstein says.
Furthermore, it appears that Parker Towers is facing another tenants’ rights issue: The complex has been sued for illegally deregulating apartments that should have been stabilized under the J-51 program, which provides landlords with tax breaks to renovate residential buildings.
“This building is facing its own set of woes, by having treated vacant apartments as market-rate when in fact they should have been rent-stabilized under J-51,” Himmelstein explains. “The new owners might have bought themselves into something they didn’t anticipate.”
An effective way to safeguard against being pushed out, or having your apartment illegally removed from rent stabilization, is to form a tenants’ association, which renters at Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village and hundreds of other buildings and developments in NYC have done. By banding together with your fellow renters, you’ll have a more powerful voice should you need to dispute problems like rent increases, neglect of the building, tenant harassment, and overcharges.
“That’s the best way to deal with these specific problems. Talk to each other and share stories, and if need be, consult with an attorney as a group,” Himmelstein says. “If you feel that there's systematic harassment, you can also go to your elected officials and file a complaint at DHCR or in Housing Court.”
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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.