1. Your apartment might be rent-stabilized
Like the yeti, an affordable rent-stabilized apartment sounds like something that exists only in folklore. But they are actually relatively common, and you may already be living in one without realizing it. Tenants in rent-stabilized apartments pay lower rents and have more rights than market-rate renters. If your apartment is rent-stabilized, your life could be better, even if it won’t keep your neighbor’s polka revival band from rehearsing every night. The trouble is, landlords hate rent-stabilized apartments, and may conveniently forget to mention it on the lease.
Any building constructed before January 1, 1974 with six or more apartments should be rent-stabilized. There are exceptions to this rule, but if you live in an older building with six or more units, and your landlord has not given you a rent-stabilized lease, it’s worth your time to research your building’s history.
Landlords are required to register rent-regulated buildings with an agency called the Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). If you go to your borough’s branch of DHCR with a lease or valid ID, they will give you a document called the rent history, which will tell you whether the building was registered as rent-stabilized. If that sounds like too much legwork, just email them.
Unfortunately, landlords do not always register their rent-stabilized buildings with DHCR (remember what I said about them being the worst?). If DHCR does not have any record of your building, consider these other options.
Check your building’s history online at the Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development websites. Again, the crucial criteria: Did the building go up before 1974, and was it registered with six or more apartments.
If you live in a new building, check the Department of Finance website. The city grants many developers tax breaks to lower construction costs. In exchange, developers agree to make their new buildings rent-stabilized. Sometimes, sneaky landlords don’t tell their tenants about this arrangement. The Department of Finance website will let you know if your landlord did get a tax break, in which case your building may be rent-stabilized.
Landlords will go to great lengths to avoid rent-stabilization. I once handled a case in which the landlord maintained -- despite irrefutable legal proof -- that the building was not regulated. His reason? He said it was my client’s mattress that was rent-stabilized, and since it had been thrown out, the status was void. Your landlord might not be quite this stupid, but you need to keep an even closer eye on the clever ones.