The following is a description of Michelle Itkowitz’s Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis product for Tenants. This is a flat rate service for tenants, whereby Michelle Itkowitz will analyze whether your allegedly free-market tenancy is really Rent Stabilized and give you a detailed written report thereon.
Probably, but it will not be easy.
There is no official list somewhere that definitively tells the world which apartments are subject to Rent Stabilization and which are not.
The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (“DHCR”) has jurisdiction over matters relating to Rent Stabilization and the DHCR maintains some records. But, the records that the DHCR maintains contain information that is largely self-reported by landlords and that is not controlling with regard to an apartment’s Rent Stabilization status. Therefore, year after year, a landlord can report to the DHCR that an apartment is “permanently exempt,” but that does not make it so.
Moreover, a current or former tenant may have signed a document acknowledging that an apartment is not subject to Rent Stabilization – but this, also, does not make it so. Parties may not contract in or out of Rent Stabilization coverage. Thornton v. Baron, 5 N.Y.3d 175 (2005).
How do you ever get a definitive answer on an apartment’s Rent Stabilization status? With some exceptions, the last word on whether an apartment is Rent Stabilized is in the hands of the courts or the DHCR. Until a judge is satisfied that an apartment is not Rent Stabilized, the matter is always, in some measure, unsettled.
Why is this so complicated? Because it is.
The information that I need to answer the question is never altogether in one place. I have to look six or seven places to pull the information together that I need to answer the question properly.
There rules are not simple. There is the Rent Stabilization Law and the Rent Stabilization Code, and they are complicated. The Law and Code have been amended many times in 45 years, and not always elegantly. Then, the Law and Code have been interpreted and re-interpreted for 45 years by the DHCR, the Civil and Supreme Courts in five boroughs, the two Appellate Divisions that cover New York City, and the Court of Appeals countless times, giving rise to exceptions and exceptions to exceptions …. There are disagreements between these authorities. There are areas in flux.
What documents and information do I need to provide you with in order for you to tell me if I am Rent Stabilized?
First, you must receive my standard Consultation Policy and go through a conflicts check. We need to make sure that I do not represent your landlord.
If you clear conflicts, then I need:
- Your current lease and the lease chains – so if the original lease was 10 years ago and there are renewals every year since then – I need the original lease and all riders thereto, and all renewals along with all their riders.
- The DHCR Apartment Rent History going back to 1984. My paralegal can show you how to get it.
- Any correspondence with landlord or the managing agent.
- Full files on any closed litigation regarding the apartment, at DHCR or in the Courts.
- How many separate apartments are in your building? Is any part of the building broken up into single rooms for rent? Is your building part of a series of small buildings connected together?
You will be assigned a paralegal as a contact. I need you to upload all the documents to a secure online Box.
Well thank you for asking. I do NOT want long narratives. I use source-data. I do not need a long email about every time your landlord ever looked at you wrong. That doesn’t affect your rent regulatory status.
In writing. I will give you a “Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis Letter.”
In the Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis Letter I will:
- Review all facts, both those you present me with and those I research myself.
- Explain the law to you in clear language and with citations to legal authority. When I work with clients, I educate them. After every engagement with me, you come out knowing more for next time, so that you can, hopefully, prevent problems in the future.
- Clearly restate your goals, so that we can be sure that the client and the firm have an identical understanding of what success looks like for the client.
- Present your available options. For each option, I tell you:
- the option’s pros,
- the option’s cons
- the cost,
- the time frame,
- the risks, and
- the percentage likelihood of that option achieving your goals.
Your lawyer should not be a disembodied voice pontificating on the phone. Furthermore, everyone has a team, even if it is unofficial – your spouse, your other lawyer, your accountant, your adult children, your parents, your friend who is a lawyer, etc. The Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis Letter allows you and the team to read what I am saying at your leisure.
And, yes, everything with me is this long of a story.
If you are likely Rent Stabilized, you have different options for enforcing your rights. Some options are faster than others; some cost more than others; some are more aggressive than others. In general, you will have the options of: going to DHCR; withholding rent, getting sued, and playing the situation out in Housing Court; suing for a declaratory judgment in Supreme Court; or doing nothing. In the Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis Letter I will cover separately the pros, cons, costs, time frames, and risks of each in detail.
When the Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis Letter is complete, we discuss it either via email or on the phone – for no extra charge.
No. I cannot guaranty the result and I will almost never assign a 100% likelihood to any conclusion, unless a judge or the DHCR has rendered a concrete ruling and the area is not currently in flux. No lawyer should ever tell you that anything is 100%.
A one-time flat fee of $2500. I get paid in advance. This is not a negotiable item.
I do not deny that $2,500 is a lot of money. Yet, as a small, private law firm, I can only price this service based upon my own economic realities. At this juncture in my career journey, I am $650/hour, and I seldom accept a new engagement without at least a $5k retainer. Your analysis will take me at least 10 hours. Thus, from my perspective, this is a discount price, and the best I can do.
If you tell me that I am not likely to be Rent Stabilized, didn’t I just pay the fee for nothing? I want to know if I am likely to be Stabilized BEFORE I pay for a letter that tells me if I am Stabilized.
You pay the fee for analysis and information about your rent regulatory status. That is valuable. If you don’t agree, then don’t hire me for this service.
I must emphasize that there is a risk that you will pay me $2500 and find out that you likely do not have a claim to Rent Stabilization, in which case I cannot refund the fee.
If you think I am Rent Stabilized and being overcharged by my landlord, will you represent me in an overcharge case on a contingency fee basis?
No. I never work on contingency. You would have to pay hourly.
It could finish in as little as two weeks, or it could take me up to three months. Part of the tradeoff for the low fee is that I do not want to be pressured by another deadline. I plan to slate these projects in between my deadline work.
I will not charge your card or deposit your check until I start and expect to get you the letter in a few days.
If there is a case against you or soon-to-be against you, then this service is not a good legal product for you to purchase. If you want an analysis attendant to a litigation or other volatile situation, you should either hire me through my normal channels, or hire someone else.
Again, I emphasize that this service is not intended to be for anything other than the analysis of your rent regulatory status. If you are engaged in or about to be engaged in a litigation with your landlord, I feel uncomfortable stepping in for a discrete analysis. You should be finding a lawyer to represent you holistically in your dispute.
Absolutely not. I am not doing you any favors by looking over your lawyer’s shoulder. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
I get multiple inquiries each week from tenants who want to know if they are Rent Stabilized. There are very few places for tenants to find accurate and actionable answers to their questions. I am such a place, but my typical rates are now extremely high. I am less and less often a match for people who have rent regulatory status questions about their apartments.
I have been thinking about how to make what I do more affordable for tenants. Also, I would like to capture what revenue I can from the volume of inquiries I am getting. I finally came up with a new legal service, Rent Stabilization Coverage Analysis for Tenants.
It is the same high-level service I offer to landlords with my Rent Stabilization Due Diligence Analysis. But this is designed for tenants.