New York City landlords systematically engage in the artificial inflation of rent for rent stabilized apartments in a scheme to remove them from rent regulation. We recommend that all tenants request a copy of their rent history from the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal (“HCR”). The HCR rent history is a starting point for all tenants to see how the rent for their apartment has increased over the years.
Each time a rent stabilized tenant moves out of their apartment, the Rent Guidelines Board (“RGB”) allows landlords to apply a vacancy increase that is on average between 18% to 20%. Landlords are also only allowed to increase the rent incrementally for each renewal lease a tenant signs. If your rent history deviates from this, we recommend contacting our office to have an attorney do a thorough analysis and see if you have a rent overcharge claim.
Typical signs that a tenant may have a good claim for a rent overcharge is the existence of large increases in rent between tenants, increases in yearly rent when there has been no change in tenants, years in which the landlord has failed to register the apartment with DHCR, or short tenancies that are for less than a year.
Landlords are allowed to raise rents higher than the aforementioned rates for a typical vacancy lease when they have conducted individual apartment improvements (IAIs). Typical IAIs include improving the apartment by installing new appliances, windows, fixtures, and “upgrades” such as new floors, countertops, cabinetry and bathrooms. Landlords are allowed to take a small percentage of the cost of these IAIs as increases in the rent charged for the apartment. However, landlords must be able to prove that the IAIs took place and that they paid as much as they claim in order to justify the rent increase.
Landlords can also permanently increase the rent for a rent-stabilized apartment by conducting a Major Capital Improvement (“MCI”) and installing building-wide improvements such as new boilers, roofs, windows or other work done for the benefit of the entire building. A landlord must apply for an MCI increase with DHCR and as part of that application, must prove how much was spent on the MCI and a proposed per-room increase in rent for all tenants in the building. A tenant's rent is then increased based on the size of their apartment.
We often find that Landlords to do not have the documentation required to justify the rent increases claimed as a result of IAIs or MCIs. In those cases, tenant usually have a viable claim for a rent overcharge. Tenants can collect overcharges dating back to four years prior to when they assert their claims. Willful and intentional overcharges are subject to treble (triple) damages for 2 out of the 4 year overcharge period pursuant to New York law. Overcharge claims can be brought either at DHCR, in Civil Court or Supreme Court or raised as a counterclaim in a Housing Court proceeding.
Any tenant who suspects that their landlord has charged them rent in excess of the allowable legal regulated rent should come meet with an attorney at the Rozen Law Group for a thorough analysis of the rent history for the apartment. Our office can guide tenants through the process and advise on the best way to pursue this claim.