Throughout New York City, tenants of multiple dwellings have found themselves making the critical decision of whether they should accept a buyout for their rent-stabilized apartment. Rent stabilization usually applies to buildings with 6 or more units, although there are exceptions. What Landlords have realized is that tenants with rent-stabilized leases typically have lower than market-rate rent. To maximize their net income, landlords have developed various ways to receive higher rent, such as offering buyouts to tenants, doing luxurious modifications or by terminating the lease. To prevent the infringement on their rights, rent-stabilized tenants must know rent stabilization codes, must read their leases, and they can speak with a landlord-tenant attorney.
One way a rent-stabilized lease can be terminated is through defaults by the tenants on the provisions of their lease. According to the New York City Housing Court, grounds for default can be the chronic non-payment of rent and nuisance. The landlord must have brought several non-payment cases to prove the chronic non-payment of rent. You may also use the existence of violations at the premises as a defense to a non-payment lawsuit. The nuisance claim cannot be based on an isolated incident but must be based on multiple instances of a nuisance.
Another common ground for default is a non-primary residence. A defense to a non-primary residence claim is proof that you live at the premises, by showing proof of address on utility bills, bank and credit card statements. If you are often away for work, or a way to take care of a relative, you can also show this in court and get the case dismissed.
Tenants have often found themselves being harassed by their landlords to leave the premises. Harassment is a violation of rent stabilization code and a tenant can seek relief from the court. According to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHPD), harassment is not limited to verbal threats, but is also in the form of repeated lack of repairs and repeated interruption in utilities, such as heat and water. Buyouts, if not done properly, can also be considered harassment.
There are specific ways for your landlord to offer a buyout. Before an offer, the landlord should, according to DHPD, give you notice in writing that the contact is on behalf of the landlord (if done by a representative), that you can reject the offer, that you can consult with a landlord-tenant attorney, and that you can refuse to be further contacted about a buyout.
If you are a tenant of a multiple dwelling unit, you should know your rights when offered a buyout, when you are facing a rent increase and when your lease is facing termination. Tenants should know that they may be entitled to rent abatement, if violations exist at the premises. They should know the procedure for landlords to request a buyout and should consult with a landlord-tenant attorney for further assistance. Don’t go blindly to court and face eviction. Consult a landlord-tenant attorney and know what rights and defenses you can assert.
Chereen James is an aspiring lawyer who enjoys writing in her spare time. Chereen has written for publications such as The Statesman and is now a writer for Workers’ World Today. She also co-hosts a radio show, “Ask the Lawyer.”