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Housing in New York
 
 
 

Available rental housing in New York falls into three main categories: market-rate housing, rent regulated housing and subsidised housing. Rents and lease renewals in market rate housing are essentially matters to be negotiated between the landlord and tenant. In rent regulated housing, rent adjustments and lease renewals are regulated by law. In subsidised housing, rents may be directly or indirectly supplemented by various government programs and terms of occupancy are regulated by law.

Market-Rate Housing includes apartments which have never been regulated and apartments which have undergone deregulation. Vacant apartments in buildings with one to five units are generally not rent regulated. Vacant apartments renting for over $2,000 per month also usually fall within the market-rate class. (However, the deregulation of these apartments is subject to challenge by the new tenant.) Vacant units in co-ops and condominiums that are rented out by the unit owners are generally market rate rentals. Apartments in buildings rehabilitated or newly constructed after January 1, 1974 are not rent regulated unless the owner has taken advantage of special tax abatement programs known as the J-51 and 421-a programs. There are a number of exceptions to these generalisations.

Rent-Regulated Housing includes both 'rent-controlled' and 'rent-stabilised' apartments. Newcomers need not concern themselves with rent control since rent controlled apartments either go to market or fall under rent stabilisation upon vacancy. Thus, there is no such thing as a vacant rent-controlled apartment. About half of all the two million apartments in the city fall under rent stabilisation. Over 100,000 of these units become vacant each year. If the lawful rent exceeds $2,000 per month, upon vacancy rent-stabilised apartments are deregulated. If the rent is below $2,000, the vacant unit remains under stabilisation. As a rule of thumb, if you are searching for a rent-stabilised apartment, the building must have been built before 1974, have six or more apartments, and the new rent must be below $2,000 per month. Some rehabilitated and newly constructed buildings also fall under rent stabilisation if the owner has received a tax abatement.

Looking for a Place

Bear in mind that New York City has many housing sub-markets. If you are looking for moderately priced apartments, very little will be found in Manhattan south of 96th Street on the East Side and below 110th Street on the West Side. Nonetheless, parts of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, northern Manhattan and Staten Island offer relatively affordable apartments. The median rent for a newly vacant apartment in Core Manhattan is typically double that found in the rest of the city.

Ask all of your friends and acquaintences in New York if they know of any reasonably priced apartments. A 1998 Rent Guidelines Board survey found that one-third of recent movers who paid rents below $1,000 found out about their apartement through word-of-mouth.

If you have time, pick out some areas where you want to live, look at our list of rent-stabilised buildings and then visit some of them. Since most apartment buildings have the name of the super or management company posted in the lobby, you may find a contact and inquire about vacancies.

Check with some of the neighbourhood non-profit groups (senior centres, community service agencies, etc.) in the area and see if they have listings or bulletin boards available.

Local papers, many of which post their classified ads online as well and in print, are probably the best source of up-to-date information on the housing market. Unfortunately, citywide newspapers tend to be Manhattan-centric. If you are looking for housing in the other boroughs, check out the many community papers that are available.

On the internet, there are many free and fee-based services that cater to your particular needs. Many allow you to search for apartments on their website. Some send you email messages when they find a place that fits your profile. Others specialise in roommate referrals, sublets, shares, and Bed & Breakfast accommodations.

Another way is to visit real estate brokers in the neighbourhood in which you want to live, many of whom carry listings for rent-stabilised properties. Although fees are charged, some brokers can be very helpful, especially if you have specific housing needs. Look in the Yellow Pages for a listing of brokers in the areas you want to search.

Fees & Tenancy Contract

Generally, the fees you may be asked to pay for securing an apartment are legal. However, be careful not to be taken in by the occasional unscrupulous operator:

• A real estate broker can charge a broker's fee for finding you an apartment. The amount of this fee is not set by law. In order to charge the fee the broker must actually find you an apartment.

• An apartment referral service can charge a fee for referring apartments to you. However, the fee must be refunded (minus a $15 charge) if you don't find an apartment.

• Neither a managing agent nor the owner of a rental building can ask you for a fee in order to rent an apartment. Such a demand is illegal and you can report the managing agent/owner to the NYS Attorney General's Office (Manhattan) if you have some solid evidence. It is doubtful whether a verbal demand would be sufficient to get the AG's office to investigate unless you have corroborating witnesses.

• Finally, the owner/managing agent can charge an application fee. Typically, this fee is for checking your references, your credit rating, etc. The fee must bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of doing these things. While a fee of $150 may be reasonable, a fee of $1,500 is more likely to be considered key money.

Landlord and tenant relations are governed by statutes, administrative regulations, court decisions and the terms of individual leases. A lease is a contract which supplements or expands upon the rights and obligations prescribed by law.

A lease is particularly important for unregulated tenants. Tenants who are not protected by rent control or rent stabilisation are considered month-to-month tenants unless they have a lease which specifies a longer term. Without a lease, unregulated tenancies may be terminated on as little as 30 days notice at the owner's sole discretion. Additionally, leases for unregulated tenants protect against unexpected rent increases during the term of the lease. Unregulated leases can be almost any length, but are typically one or two years.

Rent regulated tenants have tenure rights and cannot be evicted except for cause. Nonetheless, owners of rent-stabilised buildings almost universally demand new tenants sign standard leases. Rent-stabilised tenants have a right to choose one or two year leases.

It is important to note that many leases contain terms and conditions which have been displaced by statutes. Such matters as subletting, pets, evictions and services are heavily regulated by law. This is true whether the apartment is rent regulated or unregulated. Because of changes in the law, most leases contain one or more clauses that are no longer enforcable. It is therefore important to consult with a lawyer even if a lease provision appears clear on its face.

Virtually all leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one month's rent, and cannot be more than one month's rent in rent-stabilised housing units.

The landlord must return your security deposit, less any lawful deduction, at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. A landlord may use the security deposit:

• as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the apartment is damaged; or
• as reimbursement for any unpaid rent.

Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not co-mingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. You must be informed in writing of the bank's name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to annual administrative expenses of 1% of the deposit. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to you. You must be given the option of having this interest paid out annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing account must also follow these rules.

 

 
 


 



 


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