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'Need to know' information for New York renters

New York is unique. It can be dirty, but the 24/7 bustle of life can be invigorating. Demand for living space is high, making reasonable rents hard to come by. Even those who have lived in rented apartments or owned cooperatives for years face legal challenges as landlords seek to convert rent-regulated units into space for which they can charge higher market prices.

Myriad laws exist controlling tenant and landlord rights. Housing court is where disputes are meant to be adjudicated, but as a recent series of articles in The New York Times has observed, the dysfunction that seems to plague all bureaucratic institutions has reached a breaking point. Many critics say the system is in such disarray that moneyed landlords have turned the wheels of justice into what the Times calls the eviction machine.

As the newspaper series points out, landlords and their lawyers are taking advantage of weaknesses in the legal infrastructure, inundating the court with often questionable actions. In some cases, tenants aren't being notified when suits are brought against them. Still, the court issues orders, unaware of failures in due process.

Shortcomings of the system aside, protection of tenant rights remains possible by working with an experienced attorney. But ahead of that, here are some need-to-know tips as provided by the Times that can help.

Understand rent regulations

Two types of rent regulation exist in New York to help tenants stay in their homes. With more than 1 million units covered by these rules, it's important to know if you are in one. Rent stabilized apartments are more common and increases are regulated each year by the Rent Guidelines Board. If you are in a rent controlled apartment, you probably know it because it's been in your family since at least 1971.

Maybe you are under a preferential rent agreement that is lower than what the landlord could charge. This should be documented in your lease. In some cases, it can end at the time of lease renewal. Filing an overcharge complaint is one possible response if a rent increase if either the higher legal rent was unlawful or you have a preferential rent that cannot be revoked.

If your landlord conducts renovations that become a nuisance or that seem designed to harass tenants, a HP proceeding in court might be warranted.

If you come to be a target of an eviction suit, you can dispute the action with the court.

To protect your rights, know them. Speak with an experienced attorney.

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