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Fending off Landlord Retaliation

By: Ronda Kaysen

January 24, 2015

Fending off Landlord Retaliation

Can a landlord retaliate against a market-rent tenant or a rent-stabilized tenant for joining a tenants association in a mainly rent-stabilized building? The possible retaliation would be to raise the rent drastically or not renew the lease for the market-rate tenant, or to fail to retain a preferential rent in the case of the rent-stabilized tenant who currently benefits from one.

Washington Heights, Manhattan

Market-rate tenants have few protections. A landlord can decide not to renew a lease on a whim, or raise the rent when the lease comes up for renewal. Tenants often worry that complaining too loudly (or frequently) could spell a rent increase at the end of the lease term. But state law protects market-rate tenants from retaliatory eviction for some behavior, like joining a tenants group.

How would the law protect you if you joined a tenants association? If the landlord does not offer you a new lease when your current one expires, for example, you could use your membership as evidence in court to show that his actions are retaliatory. If you joined the association within six months of the proceeding, “the landlord must then provide a credible reason for his act,” said Jeffrey R. Metz, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. He would have to show that he wanted the tenant out for a reason other than to retaliate.

Although the law is silent about rent increases, if your rent rises drastically, you could still make the same argument under the same statute. If your case prevailed, the landlord would have to offer you a new one-year lease. If you are worried that your landlord might retaliate, hold onto any tenants association minutes that show your membership and any letters you might have written to the landlord on behalf of the association.

Stabilized tenants might have a harder time proving retaliation if a landlord stops giving them preferential rent, which is a rent that is below the maximum amount legally allowed for a unit. “The owner could simply argue that given prevailing market conditions, it could charge and get the higher legal regulated rent,” Mr. Metz said.


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