We’ve all heard the stories of the New Yorker paying just a few hundred dollars a month for their apartment. Many renters think this is a pipe dream - something that is only available to the New Yorkers who were lucky enough to find a good deal in the 1970s and never leave. Most renters when they’re looking for a place are thinking about the price, the neighborhood, it’s accessibility to transit, if it has enough bedrooms and the list goes on. But rarely do renters specifically try and find an apartment that is rent-stabilized.
But you don’t need to have moved to NYC in the 1970s to get your hands on a regulated apartment. It’s estimated that there are around 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City (around 44% of all NYC units). Generally, you can expect buildings with six or more units built before 1974 to have rent-stabilized units. But recently, new regulation has allowed developers to take advantage of tax abatements in exchange for issuing rent-stabilized units. So you can find some rent-stabilized units in newer buildings as well.
While New York City is typically applauded for being a tenant friendly city, many renters are left to navigate complicated rent regulations on their own. You could live in a rent-stabilized apartment and not know.
Without knowing if you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, you can’t hold your landlords accountable and you could be subject to rent increases that are illegal.
Since August 2020, openigloo users have been sharing anonymous reviews about their buildings and landlords. Some renters have shared their experience of learning they were occupying rent-stabilized units and paying more than the legal rent. One openigloo user shared, “Our apartment was rent stabilized but the landlords didn’t disclose it, overcharged us for years while submitting increases to the NYC government.”
What is rent-stabilization and why should you care about it?
Rent-stabilization is a form of rent-regulation and is overseen by the New York state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). The system of rent-stabilization was enacted in 1969 when rents were rising sharply in many post-war buildings. The system has been extended and amended over the years, and now about one million apartments in New York City are covered by rent stabilization. But simply put, having a rent-stabilized lease means 2 things: The landlord has to renew your lease and, The rent can only go up a certain amount every year How much can your landlord raise the rent on a stabilized lease? NYC’s Rent Guidelines Board meets every June to set allowed increases for rent-stabilized leases. For example, lease renewals that started between October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020 can increase 1.5% for a 1-year lease and 2.5% for a 2-year lease. In June 2020, the Board decided to reduce increases on 1-year and 2-year leases to 0%. So if you had a lease that started on or after October 1, 2020 and on or before September 30, 2021, your landlord cannot raise the rent at your renewal.
So how can you find out if you have a rent-stabilized unit if your landlord hasn’t disclosed it?
You can request your rental history from DHCR here. Only the tenant, owner, or appointed representatives can request the rental history of an apartment. A hard-copy will be mailed to you. There is no way to digitally access this information. While there are other resources or databases that include building addresses that may have stabilized apartments, none of them will tell you if a specific unit is regulated.
But how can you find a rent-stabilized apartment?
You’ll have to get a little more crafty on how to locate one of these precious apartments. You can read building reviews from other tenants and see if they mention anything about the building being stabilized.
Many openigloo users have shared this information and offered advice to future tenants. For example, one Brooklyn renter shared:
“These apartments are rent stabilized which means they can’t raise rents more than a certain amount - make sure you are getting the right lease renewal as they depend on renters not knowing their rights on this."
You can also search for an address on the DHCR database to see if it may have stabilized units. But again, you won’t know if the specific unit you’re considering is regulated.
You can also check to see if an address has received a J-51 or 421-a abatement by checking NYC Department of Finance records. Developers are issued these tax abatements in exchange for issuing stabilized units, so confirming this status is one way to verify if the building has stabilized apartments.
Some landlords and brokers will advertise a unit as rent-stabilized, so keep an eye out for that in the listing description. Currently there are over 600 hits for rent-stabilized apartments in NYC on Craigslist.
Making sure you get a rent-stabilized lease
If you’ve found a stabilized apartment or learn that you are already in one, make sure you get a rent-stabilized lease from your landlord. You can find an example of a standard rent-stabilized lease here. The lease should state that the apartment is rent stabilized, and landlords are legally required to include a rent stabilization rider with the lease as well. It’s important to note that rent-stabilized leases must be for one or two years; you can not have a six-month rent-stabilized lease.
So while New York is trying to make renting in this city a little easier and more affordable, it’s up to the renter to know the status of their apartment and what laws apply to them. So the next time you’re in the market for an apartment, try and get your hands on a rent-stabilized apartment.
Do you live in a rent-stabilized building you love? Share your experience on the openigloo app - you can help future renters find (or avoid) their next apartment.