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For many New York City renters with leases up for renewal during the pandemic, the timing could not be more critical: Thousands have been laid off from work. And if you haven't lost your job, you may be concerned about your economic security. Either way, if you intend to stay in your apartment long-term, you may be wondering what is the best way to negotiate your new lease with your landlord.
If your situation is dire, you should be aware you have a major protection: You can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent while the city is on "pause" and there’s a proposal from state legislators to extend the eviction moratorium for six months beyond the end of the crisis. [Update: On August 7th, Governor Cuomo extended New York's eviction moratorium through September 4th.]
Even so, many tenants are wondering what will happen to rents in the future. Anticipating what comes next is an important part of negotiating with your landlord. Lots of New Yorkers have already made up their minds what to do—and this may work in your favor. Sam Himmelstein, partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (and Brick Underground sponsor) says the number of tenants leaving NYC is “massive."
Amid so much uncertainty, landlords will likely do what they can to keep their tenants in place. “Everyone has bargaining power these days,” says Himmelstein. “The vacancy rate is going to go up and landlords will be more interested in trying to retain their tenants to keep their cash flow going.”
[Editor's note: This article was originally published in April 2020. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer Best of Brick week.]
Your best strategy for negotiating your lease includes keeping it polite, trying to go month to month and leveraging your track record. However, it’s important to remember that with courts closed landlords don’t currently have any remedy if you choose not to renew your lease at the rate they want—you cannot be evicted and if they accept payment beyond your lease term you will, by default, become a month-to-month tenant. That means you have time to consider your options.
Knowing your rights
If a tenant and landlord can’t come to an agreement about a renewal lease during this crisis, a landlord “really has no remedy until the courts are open again,” Himmelstein says. You need to be notified in advance if your landlord is increasing your rent above 5 percent or if the landlord chooses not to renew. The longer you have been a tenant, the more notice you must be given—which can also buy you some time.
If you don’t come to an agreement but your landlord accepts rent beyond the expiration of the lease you become a month-to-month tenant. That’s not to say it is necessarily in your interests to ignore a lease renewal. “There isn’t much to lose by trying to negotiate,” says Himmelstein. “The worst that can happen is that you won’t make a deal but why not give it a shot?”
Do you need help negotiating your lease, renegotiating it at a rent you can afford, or terminating your lease early? The experienced tenants-rights attorneys at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph can advocate on your behalf. Call 212-349-3000 or email to schedule a consultation.
Keeping it polite
Be respectful in approaching your lease renewal and negotiating against an increase or for a rent freeze or reduction. “Start by saying ‘I’d like to renew at the same rent or lower given the current economic conditions,’ and see how the landlord responds,” says Himmelstein. The negotiations should start by offering your best case scenario and move from there, he says.
Be transparent about your situation. "You want to approach the landlord in a way that they can see where you are coming from, and that you are not just looking to benefit off the back of your landlord," says Mark Hakim, an attorney with Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas.
Try going month to month
You may feel uncomfortable committing to NYC's high rents for another year amid so much uncertainty. Landlords who might not have previously agreed to a month to month option may now be open to it, giving both sides some flexibility. Check out: Can NYC landlords raise rents during the pandemic?
Leverage your track record
If you have always paid your rent on time, your landlord will be more likely to be open to keeping your rent flat or considering a lower payment.
Jared Antin, director of sales at Elegran, points out if an apartment is vacant for one month, that's 8.3 percent of the year and is comparable to the landlord taking an 8 percent reduction in rent.
"Offering to keep a tenant in good standing in the apartment at the same rent they are paying—or in some cases even a slight reduction—may make more financial sense to the landlord than risking the apartment being vacant, and potentially getting a new tenant at an even lower rent," he says.
Tweaking the lease terms
With both recreational amenities and practical ones—like laundry facilities—closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, it’s possible you may be able to get some form of credit or reduction in rent while amenities are disrupted. For more on this, read: Signing a NYC apartment lease now? Consider asking the landlord to adjust some wording.
Several landlords have told Brick Underground they intend to be flexible if tenants can't pay their rent. According to The Real Deal, both Silverstein Properties and Related Companies saw between 80 and 90 percent of their residential tenants keep up with their rent payments last month and say they'll work with tenants on a case by case basis to help get them get through. However, if you are considering whether or not you continue to live in NYC, you may be able to negotiate ending your lease early.
Breaking your lease isn’t without risks so approach this with your landlord carefully and get legal help if necessary. You should also be aware there may be logistical challenges with moving—many building have banned moves for now. Read: What happens if your lease is up during the coronavirus pandemic?
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