Bad news for rent regulated tenants going up against the owners of their buildings: More and more city landlords have been successfully using security camera footage in primary residence cases with rent-stabilized renters, the Wall Street Journal reports.
To legally hang onto a rent-regulated apartment, a tenant must use the apartment as their "primary residence," meaning they reside in the apartment for more than six months out of the year. (As we've written previously, there are some exceptions, such as time spent out of town caring for a sick relative, or status as active duty military.) And if landlords obtain footage from the hallways indicating that you're not coming and going from your apartment as often as you say you are, well, you might find yourself looking for a new lease.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal cites the case of a tenant whose brother claimed, under oath, that he visited his sibling at the apartment several times a week. However, surveillance footage indicated that the brothers were never together in the building (meaning they individually stopped by the apartment on occasion, but didn't reside there), and also showed one of them discovering and taking down the cameras. Both were indicted for perjury, and the brother on the lease lost the apartment
"Video surveillance is very intrusive and frequently used to monitor tenant movements. Tenants should not be subjected to that," said Mark Bierman, a lawyer who recently defended tenants in a case involving this type of footage. Unfortunately, however, there's nothing actually illegal about placing security cameras in the hallways, and then using the footage as evidence in court.
While property owners are legally within their rights to place security cameras in building common areas, keep in mind that they aren't allowed to set up the cameras in a way that allows them to "see" into individual apartments. If you suspect your landlord has gone so far as to set up cameras in your actual apartment, it might be worth springing for a hidden camera detector to find out for certain, and if necessary, bring legal action against your landlord. (We've got suggestions starting at around $100 apiece here.)
However, if the cameras are legal and restricted to the common areas—and you've been obeying the law and using your home as a primary residence—for now, you'll have to prepare to defend yourself in court the old fashioned way: By providing documents such as credit card statements, tax returns, receipts, travel information, and anything else that may prove that you have, indeed, been living in your apartment full time. If you haven't been using your apartment as a primary residence, and if the landlord has the video evidence to prove it, you should be prepared to say goodbye to your rent stablized lease. There aren't a lot of viable reasons to evict rent regulated tenants in New York, but non-primary residence cases are one of them.
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