While the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection act of 2019 covers everything from application fees to notice of rent increases, many New York renters are still in the dark about their new rights under the act. In an attempt to sort it all out, Bushwick Daily spoke with several authorities on housing and the law that surrounds it.
While a full guide from the Attorney General’s office can be found here, below you will find a rough guide to renting in the city, and in particular renter’s rights under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protections act of 2019. Please note that this is neither intended as a comprehensive guide nor as legal advice.
Broker and Application Fees
Sara Wagner, who heads the New York City Bar Association’s Housing Court Committee, gave some legal perspective on the law’s provisions. According to Wagner, while some of the components of that law are in litigation, “some of what’s in the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection act is real clear.”
One provision under litigation is the banning of broker’s fees. Although they were banned in the initial passage of law, the practice has since been restored after a successful lawsuit by real estate groups and brokerages. “For the moment, I think it has been reinstated,” Wagner said.
Another provision caps the application charge at $20.
“What they’ve done recently is that the legislature has carved out co-ops from that cap, but not rentals,” Wagner added.
Rent Increases on Rent-Stabilized Apartments
The most important thing about the law, though, says Wagner, is that “they abolished high-rent and high-income luxury deregulation.”
This means, she says, that you can no longer make “too much money for a rent-stabilized apartment,” and that “just because the rent goes over a certain amount doesn’t mean that it’s automatically deregulated.”
For instance, if you rented a rent-stabilized apartment back in 2006 and then left the lease (by your choice or the landlord’s), the next tenant is protected from an astronomical increase. “The landlord doesn’t get a bonus for kicking you out,” Wagner jested.
Another way this provision protects renters is by preventing landlords from raising the rent more than two percent for major capital improvements or MCI’s. Wagner explains, “‘Previous to the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection act there were rental increases of $200, $300, $400 — huge increases for the improvements landlords were making.”
Finding Legal Aid
For familiarizing yourself with your rights, Ellen Davidson, a 20-year veteran of housing justice at the Legal Aid Society, recommends renters get in touch with their local community-based organizations. In Bushwick, Communities Resist and Riseboro are helping to connect families with aid and representation .
New York renters can receive free legal advice and counsel by calling 311 and asking for the “Tenant Helpline.”
Researching Prospective Apartments
Before committing to a lease, you can look up the information for your prospective apartment through the Department of Housing Preservation & Development. HPD Online offers complaint and litigation history, tenant harassment reports and bedbug annual reporting, among other things.
Additionally, you may consider openigloo, a review app for New York City apartment buildings founded by Allia Mohamed in August 2020. The ten-year resident of Brooklyn started the company after a spate of disappointing apartment experiences.
“A particularly bad experience involved a boiler breaking in the dead of winter, causing me and my neighbors to sleep in snowsuits,” the Columbia grad said.
The review app introduces users to a network of other renters with a lot to say about where they live. In order to use the program, users must first leave a review of a building that they occupy or have since left. The result is a treasure trove of information on New York City apartment buildings.
Mohamed shared some of the data compiled from Bushwick specifically.
“Bushwick is the most reviewed neighborhood we have on the app,” Mohamed said.
In addition to openigloo’s database of water pressure and noise levels for the city’s most popular apartment buildings, it also provides a newsletter for the conscious renter. Covering subjects such as housing law and lease breaks, Mohamed’s app is as much a forum for renters’ grievances as it is an education center for the layman.
Applying for Apartments
Previously, some landlords utilized a “tenant blacklist,” using public court records to discriminate against tenants who had been involved in legal proceedings with a property owner. This act is now illegal and renters can report landlords to the Attorney General if they suspect they were discriminated against for this reason.
However, Wagner notes that the maximum penalty for a landlord is $1,000, and court proceedings are an expensive and elongated process.
Signing a New Lease
Your landlord cannot charge more than one month’s rent for the security deposit.
Pet fees are legal in this city, and range from monthly add-ons in the $25 to $50 range, to up-front lump sums that find a median between $250 and $500, though, they can be as high as $1000.
When Occupying an Apartment
There is still no cap on rent increases for apartments that are not rent controlled or stabilized. However, to increase your rent over five percent or not renew your lease, your landlord must give you written notice within 30 to 90 days, depending on how long you have lived there and the term of your lease.
If you’re unsure if your apartment is rent-stabilized, you can call the Office of Rent Administration.
If you make complaints about the state of your building or unit, it is illegal for your landlord to retaliate through “unreasonable” rent increases or eviction.
Late Rent and Eviction Court
Property managers can only charge late fees once the rent is over five days tardy. At this point, they can charge up to $50 or five percent of the rent, whichever is less.
Before this law, notice was required three days before the execution of an eviction warrant. Now, the law requires written notice 14 days prior. If you can pay the owed rent during this two-week period, the court must vacate the eviction warrant. “The more time you give someone to create their own defense, the better it is for tenants,” Wagner commented.
In some cases, tenants will be given up to a year to relocate, so long as they remain up to date on rent.
Davidson noted that while the eviction moratorium is in place until at least August 31, 2021, eviction court persists.
She explained, “There’s an exception to the moratorium. There’s a nuisance clause in which landlords can claim that a tenant is being such and those cases can move forward at this time. We are seeing some of that.”
Leaving a Lease
Should you leave a lease early, your landlord must make a concerted effort to re-rent the apartment to a new tenant before penalizing you.
Unless you terminate your lease with less than two-weeks notice, your landlord must offer you a walkthrough. They must also provide you with the ability to “cure” damages incurred while living in the apartment so that you may recover the whole or partial security deposit.
For non-rent-stabilized units and “all dwelling units in residential premises, unless such dwelling unit is specifically referred to in section 7-107,” Your landlord must provide an itemized statement of deductions and return the remainder of the deposit within 14 days. Otherwise, they forfeit the right to keep any part of it.
Editor’s Note: Article updated on August 11 at 10:51 p.m. to correct spelling error.
Top image photo by Nicole Allen Viana.
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