This week on CAMBA Voice, we caught up with Alfred Toussaint, Program Manager at CAMBA Legal Services, to find out more about the top issues and misconceptions his clients face.
Tip #1: Don’t spend your rent money elsewhere.
If you are refusing to pay rent due to conditions in the apartment that require repair: Do NOT spend this money.
This money should be held until the landlord begins a court case. Wait until you get to court and a hearing or trial is conducted. If the judge rules that you must pay, you will have to pay all of the rent owed within five days. If the judge agrees that you shouldn’t have to pay it all, you must usually still pay a percentage of what is owed. Typically, the judge will require you to pay 70-85% of the amount owed at least.
To boil it down: Save the money that you have for rent, even if you’re not paying. If you don’t have the rent money at all at the time of the hearing or trial, it shows that you’re unable to afford the apartment, and the judge has grounds to consider eviction.
Tip #2: Include all repairs in the agreement for a nonpayment case.
If you are in a nonpayment proceeding and entering into an agreement to pay, it is important to include any and all repairs in the stipulation (agreement) for a nonpayment case.
This protects a tenant from a future chronic rent delinquency holdover. A chronic rent delinquency holdover is a type of case where the landlord wants the apartment back, rather than the rent owed. The landlord may bring this type of case stating that they have had to bring too many nonpayment cases against a tenant in a short period of time and is therefore seeking possession of the apartment. In a nonpayment case, it is recommended that tenants always include outstanding repairs in the agreement to pay.
If there were legitimate repairs in your apartment, the landlord had notice of those repairs, and the conditions caused financial hardships and/or an inability to adequately enjoy living in the apartment, including those repairs in your paperwork will help the court to better understand why the rent was not paid in the previous nonpayment case(s).
Tip #3: Pay with a check.
It is important not to pay rent in cash, unless you ALWAYS get a receipt from the landlord. It is better to pay the rent with a check or money order and keep a copy of all receipts and proof of payments!
This is an important issue because unless you are able to show proof of your payment, the court typically it as if rent was never paid.
Tip #4: Look for court papers before moving out.
If the landlord (or their lawyer) sends notice that you must vacate a premise, you are not obligated to vacate unless their notice is followed by court papers. This applies even if you do not have a lease or the lease expired.
Oftentimes the notices landlords give are predicate notices such as a 3-day notice, 5-day notice, etc., to pay money or vacate. Even though these notices are legal papers, they are not court papers that notify you that a case has started. Particularly, if a landlord commences a holdover case, which is a case where the landlord is primarily seeking possession of the apartment and not rent, the landlord must serve the tenant with a Notice of Petition and Petition containing a court date in order to seek the eviction of a tenant.
It is against the law for the landlord to evict you directly. They must bring you to housing court. If the court decides that the landlord has the right to evict you, they must hire a Marshal to conduct the eviction. The landlord is NOT permitted to change the locks, remove your belongings, or otherwise impede your ability to live in the apartment until the court has determined they have the right to do so.
Tip #5: Get to know the Homes and Community and Renewal (HCR) office
Rent Stabilization laws affect buildings that have six or more apartments. Even if you reside in a building with less than six apartments, it is still suggested that you request a print out from the HCR office at 55 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217 as some buildings have been illegally converted to fewer than six units. Rent Stabilized tenants should learn more about the services provided by HCR. HCR is responsible for enforcement of the Rent Stabilization laws and can help tenants ensure they are being charged the proper amount in rent and that their rents are being properly registered with the agency.
Visit http://nycrgb.org/. On this site, tenants can get info on rent stabilization guidelines. The site will also allow you to anticipate increases rent.
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