Even if you’re a first-time renter in New York City, you probably already know that New York has some of the highest rent prices in the USA. This is why it pays to know the best time to rent an apartment in NYC, as well as the best NYC apartment rental websites. With a little bit of research and luck, you’ll be able to find an apartment that suits your budget.
When you consider how much work can go into finding an affordable apartment, it can be quite a shock when you suddenly get a notice from your landlord saying that your rent will increase.
If this happens to you, don’t panic! This guide will help you understand when and how a landlord is allowed to increase your rent, and what you should do to reduce the chances of this happening.
First things first: if you have reached the end of your lease period, your landlord is legally allowed to raise your rent. However, your landlord cannot legally raise your rent during the duration of your lease.
For at-will tenants such as those renting on a monthly basis or those who do not have a lease with their landlord, the landlord CAN increase the rent at will. There is one caveat: since the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) of 2019, landlords are required to provide tenants (whether under lease or at-will) with notice if they will raise the rent by 5% of the base amount or more.
According to the New York Rent Guidelines Board, you can generally find rent-stabilized apartments in buildings that were built before 1974 and are no condos or co-ops. Furthermore, the buildings must contain six or more units. However, take note that not all apartments in these buildings are automatically classified as rent-stabilized.
For a unit to be classified as rent-stabilized, it must fall into one of the following categories:
- Have had a rent of less than $2,000, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between 1993 and June 23, 2011.
- Have had a rent of less than $2,500, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between June 24, 2011 and June 14, 2015.
- Have had a rent of less than $2,700, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment since June 15, 2015.
- Have had a rent of less than $2,733.75, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment after December 31, 2017.
- Have had a rent of less than $2,774.76, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment after December 31, 2018 but prior to June 14, 2019.
You should also remember that these guidelines are not set in stone, and there are apartments that can be classified as rent-stabilized on a case-to-case basis. For example, if you rented a unit in a building that was initially classified as rent-stabilized but was converted into a co-op, you can contact the NYS Homes and Community Renewal board to have your unit’s status remain as rent-stabilized.
Here’s a bit of bad news for you: there is no state law in NYC that will limit the amount of rent increase by your landlord if you are renting a non-stabilized apartment.
There is one silver lining though: while non-stabilized apartments don’t have rent increase protections, most landlords will only increase rent by around 5%. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, your landlord will most likely choose to charge you an affordable amount rather than risk having to find a new tenant.
It helps to check whether there are any clauses in your lease about rent increases if you choose to renew, particularly if you plan to stay for a longer period of time in your apartment. In fact, it might even be beneficial for you to bring up the topic of rent increase before you sign the lease so that you have an idea of what to expect.
Okay, now for some good news:
Based on a survey by the Rent Guidelines Board, around 1 million apartments in NYC are rent-stabilized! You can even check on their portal to see whether your building or apartment is listed on their website.
If you’re living in a rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord has a fixed cap on any intended rent increase. The limits are calculated by the Rent Guidelines Board each year. In 2020, the maximum rent increase for rent-stabilized apartments was fixed at 1.5% for 1-year leases and 2.5% for 2-year leases.
This means that if you rented an apartment for $2000 in 2019 and you want to renew your lease for the same unit, your landlord can only increase your rent to $2030 for a one-year lease or to $2050 for a two-year lease.
In general, most states require that landlords give their tenants 30 days prior notice before increasing rent. However, these rules can vary from state to state depending on the length of the lease and the intended rent increase amount.
In California, for example, landlords must give their tenants 60 days prior notice if they intend to raise the rent by 10% or more.
In Massachusetts, landlords are required to give at-will tenants advance notice that is equivalent to the rent period. For example, if you are paying rent every two months, your landlord is required to give you 60 days advance notice as well.
In NYC, even tenants who are renting for shorter periods of time (i,.e., on a weekly basis), landlords are required to give 30 days advance notice before raising the rent.
Under NYC Rent Guidelines, as long as the landlord is legally raising your rent, you cannot refuse their terms. While you can negotiate, your landlord is under no legal obligation to accept your counteroffer. Simply put, once your lease is up, there is no way for you to dictate the terms of a rent raise as long as your landlord is following the rules set by the Rent Guidelines Board.
That being said, there are times when you can refuse a rent raise provided that the landlord has acted illegally in raising the rent.
If your landlord did not give you proper advance notice, you can refuse to pay the added rent amount. You can also file a complaint against your landlord with the Rent Guidelines Board.
In order to make your case strong, you should first write a letter to your landlord about your concerns with the rent increase, particularly with the lack of advance notice. Make sure that this letter is signed by your landlord to prove that you attempted to make your concerns heard. If your landlord still goes ahead with the rent increase, you can file your case.
While most landlords include general repairs and maintenance in rent, any major repairs or renovations - known as “capital improvements” - should only be charged to the tenant at a maximum of 2% of the base rent amount. If your unit has not undergone any major repairs or renovations, your landlord cannot use this as a reason to increase your rent.
Again, if you intend to file a case against your landlord, make sure that you properly document all your correspondence as well as any proof you have that there have been no major renovations or repairs.
This is the easiest case to make: if you are living in a rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord cannot increase your rent past the limits set by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board.
Some unethical landlords might try increasing rent retroactively. This means that they will try to get you to pay the increased amount for past months. This is illegal and should be reported immediately to the NYC Rent Guidelines Board.
If you’re living in a non-rent stabilized apartment, there’s no guaranteed way to avoid a rent increase. However, you can lessen your chances of experiencing one by signing a longer lease. That way, you can at least be assured of a fixed rent amount during your lease period.
The bottom line is that unless you’re living in a rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord will be free to increase the rent as they see fit once your lease is up. That being said, the best way to avoid an unreasonable rent increase is by maintaining a friendly and courteous relationship with your landlord. In case you want to renew your lease, you will be in a better position to negotiate any rent increase.
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