Saving a Rent Stabilized Tenant’s Apartment in Manhattan in a Non-Primary Residence Case


March 28, 2021

In this post, I describe how I saved a Rent Stabilized tenant’s apartment in Manhattan and I talk about my philosophy towards “victory” and settlement.

In our story today, my client was a residential tenant in Manhattan. Her[1]three-bedroom apartment was subject to Rent Stabilization. In July 2017, her landlord commenced a non-primary residence case against her. No, I did not get that date wrong…this case took 31 months to resolve.

My client lived in the building all her life. Literally, she was brought home from the hospital some 75 years ago to an apartment in that building. She grew up in the building and left briefly for college and then to serve her country. When she returned to New York City in the 1970’s, her and her husband moved into the subject apartment. The landlord’s suspicion that tenant had stopped using the apartment as her primary residence was aroused because my client was often away. Now a widow, my client was was temporarily in residence at a prestigious university, outside of New York State, finishing her PHD. While her absence was, indeed, temporary, it was also lengthy.

Discovery was conducted, i.e., the exchange of paper and depositions. The Pandemic did not make the case go faster. Eventually we got to our pre-trial conference. The trial judge really liked my case. He said, “If tenant can prove she is a fully matriculated student, you lose the case landlord.” Well, of course, I could prove that. I already had a certified copy of my client’s transcript. Wow, who would not like to hear that from their trial judge?! OMG how I love the scent of winning! What a great blog post that would make!

Let us, however, take a step back and think this through. First, after the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, vacancies in Rent Stabilized apartments are virtually valueless, because there is no more vacancy deregulation. So why was the landlord still pursuing the recovery of this apartment so vigorously? The answer likely lied in the fact that the market value for this unit was north of $8k per month. There may be rules, but this landlord probably was not intending to follow them. Why should that matter to my tenant-client? Here is why. If I won the case, the landlord would be forced to give my client another Rent Stabilized lease renewal. That would cover my client for another two years. But after that, the landlord would likely just bring the next case regarding my client’s residence during those two years. Not to mention that the landlord might even appeal a loss at trial. Winning is delightful. But so often in today’s world, victory is not tantamount to finality. 

As I discussed the matter with my client, it became apparent that it was not the apartment that she was attached to, it was the building. The address is a great one. The building was filled with a lifetime’s worth of her friends. Frankly, a three-bedroom apartment was a lot more room than my client really wanted.

So, I asked the Landlord, “Hey what do you have vacant in the building?” Normally that address would have almost no vacancy. By this point, however, we were in the middle of the Pandemic. Thus, there were vacancies.

It took some negotiation, but the landlord moved my client to a newly renovated one-bedroom apartment in the building. The landlord paid for the move and did a good job. My client loves the new apartment. Everything is nice and new, and it fits her lifestyle better than all the empty rooms and ghosts of the subject apartment. The price was right and, of course, my client remains a Rent Stabilized tenant. And its over.

I love winning. I love mutually beneficial solutions more. I love delivering value to my clients the most.

Respectfully submitted,

Michelle Itkowitz

[1] Certain unimportant details changed to protect the innocent.