Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Special: Real Estate: Learn How To Play Hardball

By Peter Holslin

Before putting any money down on a new apartment, be sure to know your rights.

New York Statute 50-7-235-b states that the landlord is legally obligated to ensure that a space rented out to a tenant must be "fit for human habitation and for the uses reasonably intended by the parties and that the occupants of such premises shall not be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety."

If you encounter any problems with your landlord, document everything. Mail letters of complaint. Make sure they are certified and return-receipt-requested. For added support, forward the letter to a local tenant's rights organization. Also, take photographs and send emails to build a paper trail. Never agree to anything with a shady landlord in person. Hearsay has no legitimacy in a courtroom.

Be sure to consult the Department of Buildings homepage on nyc.gov. This website is rife with information about building codes and housing court. It has links to community organizations and law agencies in every borough. Best of all, it hosts an exhaustive search engine that reports Certificates of Occupancy (C of O), permit requests, violations and other statistics for nearly every building in the city.

A search for 98 South 4th St., my old loft apartment, revealed 16 complaints, 26 Dept. of Buildings violations, 16 Environmental Control Board violations and scans of two C of O documents. One was signed December 7, 1928 and the other December 18, 1949, for a single story building. The building, known as the "Rocket Factory," currently has eight stories. The landlord recently applied for another C of O, but it was never finalized.

An article in The Village Voice last summer reported that landlords renting out buildings with at least three dwellings, specifically under a commercial lease (as opposed to residential, which is the lease you sign for most apartments in the city) are not legally allowed to charge rent, sue for back-rent or evict tenants for not paying rent, if the building does not have a C of O.

After discovering my loft had no C of O, I consulted a lawyer. He charged $250, looked up my building on the Dept. of Buildings site, noted this law and recommended that I stop paying rent.

Nyc.gov also has home pages for the Department of Housing and the Loft Board, which have even more information about tenant rights and housing regulations.

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