In the frenzied rush to rent an apartment in NYC, tenants often rely solely on the representations of brokers, managing agents, and landlords about the type of building they are about to rent. Many of today’s tenants assume they are “deregulated” tenants, or tenants not subject to rent control or rent stabilization, and landlords do nothing to disabuse a tenant of the assumption, perhaps relying on a murky history that the tenant’s apartment was deregulated because it was used for professional reasons or rented by an owner in the past. Don’t assume your apartment is deregulated without checking because there are significant benefits to being a rent regulated tenant, including reasonable rent increases and generally, life-time tenure in the apartment.
How do you independently check if your apartment is deregulated or not?
•1. Check if the 2009 Stuyvesant Town decision, called Roberts, applies to you. Roberts holds that landlords must keep apartments rent regulated as a condition of getting a J-51 tax abatement. You should search if your building gets tax abatement. Go to the website ACRIS (Automated City Register Information System) to get the block and lot for your building, then go to the J-51 history request screen on ACRIS and follow the prompts. (Make sure to check back to before you moved in to the apartment. If the building had a J-51 when you moved in, you may be rent regulated even though the abatement has since expired.)
•2. If you rent a newly constructed building and the rents are fairly high, (e.g. in the $3000+ range) you should check if the landlord has a “421-a” tax abatement. If yes, the owner must keep your apartment rent regulated during the course of receiving the tax abatement.
•3. You can also call the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development at 212-863-5517 (J-51) or 212-863-5421 (421-a) or call NYC Department of Finance at 311 to see if your building has a tax abatement.
If you find your new apartment is subject to rent regulation because the building receives these tax abatements, you may have a legal challenge to the rent amount called a “rent overcharge claim.” (Do not assume however that you will get a windfall of treble or three times the damages even if the owner is found to have overcharged you. So far, courts have not found owners to have willfully or fraudulently overcharged tenants in J-51 buildings, but that might change if landlords overcharged after the Roberts decision was decided.)
Even if you signed a “deregulated” lease, all is not lost. You can still challenge the rent regulatory coverage even after you have moved in and paid the deregulated rent, and even if the landlord and prior tenant “agreed” that your apartment is not rent regulated.