Realty Bites

I was charged a lower amount for my NYC rent-stabilized apartment. Will I have to pay the difference?

By Austin Havens-Bowen | March 31, 2022 - 1:30PM

Reach out to your landlord to confirm the amount before you pay.

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Question:

For three months my landlord invoiced me for a lower amount for my rent-stabilized apartment. I paid it because the invoice matched the rent on the online portal where I make payments. Now he says it was a mistake and wants me to make up the difference. Do I have to pay?

Answer:

You have two options when you are invoiced for a lower rent than usual: Pay and risk it being a billing error or reach out to your landlord to confirm the amount is correct before paying.

When you pay the lower rent without checking with your landlord, you might be responsible for a lump sum later if the charges were incorrect, says Steven Kirkpatrick, a partner at law firm Romer Debbas. Landlords can make honest mistakes, he says. To avoid this, reach out to your landlord before paying, Kirkpatrick says.

There are some situations where your landlord might charge you a lower rent. For example, if they perform an audit and find they were overcharging you, or if there’s a rent credit for a loss of services in the building. Some landlords also temporarily lowered the rent during the pandemic to help renters who were going through difficult times.


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If your landlord says the invoiced amount is correct, it’s best to get the agreement in writing. But it doesn’t mean that you are totally off the hook from having to pay the difference down the line. Why? Many leases include no waiver language, which means if your landlord accepts a lower rent payment, it doesn’t mean they’re waiving their right to collect the rest later, Kirkpatrick says.

If it was a mistake, ideally your landlord will work with you and give you time to pay the difference because it was their fault. 

There is another consideration: Sometimes landlords offer rent-stabilized tenants what's called preferential rent, which is when landlord charges you less than the legal, maximum limit. They offer this because the apartment is in an area that doesn't command high rents, or there's something about the apartment that makes it hard to rent.

In the past, this was a tricky situation, because at renewal time, a landlord could hike the rent way up to the maximum, more than the small percentage set by the Rent Guidelines Board for rent-stabilized apartments. However, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 made all preferential rents permanent, with only Rent Guideline Board increases, which are usually around 1 to 2 percent, until the tenant moves out.

Your lease will indicate the amount of rent you have to pay and if you suspect your landlord is trying to get around the rules for preferential rent, you can file a rent overcharge complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

 

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