RENT

RENT CHARGES

When an apartment is not rent regulated, a landlord is free to charge any rent agreed upon by the parties. If the apartment is subject to rent regulation, the initial rent and subsequent rent increases are set by law.

Maximum rent increases for rent stabilized apartments are set each year by the Rent Guidelines Board. In addition, landlords of rent stabilized apartments may seek rent increases for certain types of building-wide major capital improvements (MCI) that benefit all tenants, such as the replacement of a boiler or the installation of new equipment. Rents may be increased in individual apartments for substantial increases in dwelling space, new equipment, improvements or furnishings.

The landlord must file an application with DHCR for the increase within two years after making the improvements. With the consent of the tenant, the landlord may seek a monthly rent increase for improvements made to an apartment for up to 1/40 (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept 24, 2011) of the cost of such improvements, including installation but excluding finance charges. Tenants are given the opportunity to challenge the rent increase. No rent adjustment may be charged until DHCR approves the application.

For rent stabilized apartments in New York City, the rent adjustment collectible in any one year may not exceed six percent of the tenant’s rent. Adjustments above the six percent cap can be spread forward to future years. For all rent controlled or stabilized apartments outside New York City, the permanent adjustment collectible in any one year may not exceed fifteen percent of the tenant’s rent.

Additionally, a landlord may increase the rent because of hardship or increased labor costs. For rent controlled apartments in New York City, the rent may also be adjusted according to changes in the prices of various types of heating fuels.

Tenants who are senior citizens (62 years or older) or who are disabled may be granted certain exemptions from rent increases. Tenants may determine whether they qualify for a Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) or a Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) by calling the DHCR’s Rent InfoLine at (718) 739-6400.

Landlords must provide tenants with a written receipt when rent is paid in cash, a money order, a cashier’s check or in any form other than the personal check of a tenant. Where a tenant pays the rent by personal check, the tenant may request in writing a rent receipt from the landlord. The receipt must state the payment date, the amount, the period for which the rent was paid, and the apartment number. The receipt must be signed by the person receiving the payment and state his or her title. Real Property Law § 235-e.

It is illegal for any person to require a prospective tenant to pay a bonus–-commonly called “key money”–-above the lawful rent and security deposit, for preference in renting a vacant apartment. Key money is not to be confused with fees that may be legally charged by a licensed real estate broker. Penal Law § 180.55.

RENT OVERCHARGES

In New York City and certain communities in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties where rent stabilization or rent control laws apply, the landlord may not charge more than the legal regulated rent. Under the housing law, landlords must register each rent stabilized apartment with DHCR and provide tenants annually with a copy of the registration statement. Tenants may also get a copy of the rent history for their apartment directly from DHCR.

A tenant may only challenge rents and collect any overcharges going back four years from the tenant’s filing a complaint. The tenant is also entitled to recover interest, plus reasonable costs and attorney’s fees, for the overcharge proceeding.

Generally, the penalty for a rent overcharge is the amount an owner collected above the legal regulated rent, plus accrued interest. If the overcharge is willful, the landlord is liable for a penalty of three times the amount of the overcharge for two years prior to the filing of the complaint. The landlord has the burden of proving that the overcharge was not willful. Tenants who believe they are being overcharged should contact DHCR (718-739-6400).

RENT SECURITY DEPOSITS

Virtually all leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one month’s rent. If a lease is renewed at a greater amount or the rent is increased during the term of the lease, the owner is permitted to collect additional money from the tenant in order to bring the security deposit up to the new monthly rent. A landlord may use the security deposit as a reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the tenant damages the apartment, or a reimbursement for any unpaid rent.

The landlord must return the security deposit, less any lawful deduction, to the tenant at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. The landlord is obligated to return the security deposit whether or not the tenant asks for its return. To avoid any disputes, the tenant should thoroughly inspect the apartment with the landlord before moving in and document any pre-existing conditions. Upon vacating, the tenant should leave the apartment in clean condition, removing all personal belongings and trash from the apartment, and making any minor repairs needed.

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 commingle 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. Each tenant must be informed in writing of the bank’s name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to collect annual administrative expenses of one percent of the deposit. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to the tenants. Tenants must be given the option of having this interest paid to them 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 bank account must also follow these rules.

For example: A tenant pays a security deposit of $800. The landlord places the deposit in an interest bearing bank account paying 2.5%. At the end of the year the account will have earned interest of $20.00. The tenant is entitled to $12.00 and the landlord may retain $8.00, 1% of the deposit, as an administrative fee.

If the building is sold, the landlord must transfer all security deposits to the new owner within five days, or return the security deposits to the tenants. Landlords must notify the tenants, by registered or certified mail, of the name and address of the new owner. Purchasers of rent stabilized buildings are directly responsible to tenants for the return of security deposits and any interest. This responsibility exists whether or not the new owner received the security deposits from the former landlord.

Purchasers of rent controlled buildings or buildings containing six or more apartments where tenants have written leases are directly responsible to tenants for the return of security deposits and interest in cases where the purchaser has “actual knowledge” of the security deposits. The law defines specifically when a new owner is deemed to have “actual knowledge” of the security deposits. General Obligations Law Article 7, Title 1.

When problems arise regarding security deposits, tenants should first try to resolve them with the landlord before taking other action. If a dispute cannot be resolved, tenants may contact the nearest local office of the Attorney General, listed at the end of this page. [The Attorney General's website has further information on housing issues.]

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