Ask Sam: Can I get my landlord to pay me to downsize to a smaller apartment?
Can I get a landlord to pay me to downsize my apartment? I'm a single person living in a two bedroom and I no longer need the extra space, but I don't want to go on the market to look for a one bedroom or studio. Do landlords ever pay you to move to another smaller unit? If they don't, is it easy to switch apartments in the same building?
In most cases, it’s unlikely a landlord would offer tenants any payment to downsize, because they have no financial incentive to do so, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph, who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
In the past, rent-stabilized tenants were sometimes offered large buyouts to move out so that their landlords could deregulate their units, through vacancy increases and apartment improvements, and then charge market-rate rent. Now, thanks to the rent reform laws passed in 2019, landlords can no longer deregulate stabilized apartments in this way, so buyout offers have decreased significantly.
So if you’re a stabilized tenant, a landlord has little to gain from you moving to a smaller apartment because your current unit would remain stabilized, Himmelstein says. And if the smaller unit you’d like to move into is not rent stabilized, that rent might not even be cheaper for you, since stabilization keeps rents low.
There are exceptions, however.
“If the landlord wants to combine your apartment with a neighboring one, it would be considered a new unit with no rent history. The landlord could then charge ‘first rent,’ which means whatever they can get,” Himmelstein says. “Then the apartment goes back into stabilization at that rate.”
So if your landlord wants to reconfigure your apartment, you may be able to negotiate and get paid to downsize.
Rent-stabilized tenants in condo or co-op buildings may be able to negotiate as well, as these apartments will be deregulated once a tenant vacates.
On the other hand, if you’re a market-rate tenant, there is little chance of a buyout. “Market-rate tenants almost never get paid to do anything,” Himmelstein says.
When the situation is reversed, and the landlord is the one asking a rent-stabilized tenant to relocate, then you have significant negotiating power. And in these cases, landlords may also offer to relocate tenants to equivalent—not smaller—apartments.
“In that situation, tenants are in the driver’s seat,” Himmelstein says. “They can ask for an equivalent apartment, a renovated apartment, lower rent, a rent freeze. They should negotiate, because if the landlord really wants the apartment, they might be willing to do a lot to get it.”
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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 & 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.