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I'm a rent-stabilized tenant, and my building was recently sold. The new landlord has asked me to leave because they want to move their family in. Can they do this?
Among the many sweeping changes brought about by the recent rent reform legislation passed in the New York State Senate, tenants in your situation now have a lot more power to push back, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
Historically, landlords could refuse to renew rent-stabilized tenants’ leases on the grounds that they needed the apartment as a primary residence, either for themselves or an immediate family member.
“All they had to do to win the case was show that they were proceeding in good faith, and had the honest intention and desire to occupy an apartment or apartments,” Himmelstein says. “It was difficult to fight, because how do you prove that somebody isn’t really intending to do something in the future?”
Under the previous law, a landlord had to give 90 to 150 days’ notice before a tenant’s lease was up, show in good faith that they had plans to move themselves or family members into the unit, and own the building under their own name, rather than an LLC or other form of non-individual ownership. There were no limits on how many apartments in a building a landlord could recover, as long as they followed these rules.
Tenants who were 62 or older, or who had a disability, had additional protections: A landlord evicting them for owner use had to find them "superior or equivalent housing accommodation at the same or lower rent-regulated rent in a closely proximate area."
“Now the law has completely changed,” Himmelstein says. “Now landlords can’t recover more than one apartment, and they must prove an ‘immediate and compelling necessity’ for the apartment.”
This is a difficult standard to meet, Himmelstein explains. Essentially, landlords must demonstrate an emergency situation in order to take over a tenant’s unit—for example, that they or a family member have a disability that requires them to live in a unit on the first floor, and no other alternative living arrangements are available.
Additionally, the protections that used to exist for senior citizens and disabled tenants have now been extended to all tenants who have lived in their rent-stabilized apartment for 15 years or more.
As before, tenants who are suspicious of their landlords’ intentions in owner-use cases can do some research and see if they can demonstrate fraud in housing court.
"You might want to go to the landlord-tenant clerk's office to see if they've brought similar cases against other tenants in their buildings, then not moved in," says Himmelstein. "You could also do a search of their name on Property Shark to see how many other buildings they own. The larger they are as a landlord, the more suspicious a judge will be—what's so special about your particular apartment that they have to move in?"
Websites like RentLogic, which grades rental buildings on the basis of past complaints and violations, and Rate My Landlord, crowdsourced from NYC tenants, can be helpful in uncovering more information on your building management. The New York City Public also publishes a list each year of the city’s worst landlords—perhaps worth a look, as well.
But thanks to the new law, these kinds of conflicts should become much rarer.
“There's no question that there are going to be fewer owner-use cases. Landlords won’t be able to use this to clear out buildings anymore,” Himmelstein says, referring to the fact that some landlords have tried to claim "owner use" as a way to kick rent-stabilized tenants out of the building and hike up the rents.
A few questions remain. It’s not clear yet whether landlords who took over apartments for owner-use before the new law was passed will be barred from doing so again, based on the one apartment limitation.
“This is a question that has not been addressed in the statute,” Himmelstein says. “It’s probably something that will end up being litigated.”
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam at email@example.com or call (212) 349-3000.