Rents have been consistently increasing in most parts of the country. In some cases, landlords increase the rent and tell their tenants that they are in the process of upgrading or renovating the place. However, in a large number of cases, landlords just keep the money and never upgrade the building.
This is exactly what has happened to Randy Garcia in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Randy was paying $1,800 rent, an exorbitant sum considering the fact that she has a low-paying job. After obtaining history of her rent increase, she quickly learnt that her landlord, Bronstein Properties, had doubled the rent in just four years. Under the law, to justify such an increase in rent, Bronstein would have had to perform more than $30,000 in renovations when the apartment was vacant. However, it was revealed that Bronstein had not filed a building permit for any type of renovation work.
Last week, more than 60 tenants, including Randy Garcia, filed a class action lawsuit against Bronstein Properties claiming that the corporation greatly inflated rents in regulated apartments by claiming that they had performed significant renovations. Bronstein Properties owns over ten dozen buildings with rent regulated apartments, mostly located in ungentrified neighborhoods.
In the state of New York, the rent for regulated apartments can only be increased by a certain amount every 12 months. This rule is in place to ensure that affordable housing is available for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. There are currently around 1 million unregulated apartments in New York City.
Landlords can only increase rents if they make renovations, like installing a new appliance or renovating the bathroom. They are not allowed to increase rent for mundane upkeep like painting an apartment. And if they do make a renovation, they are supposed to get a permit first to make sure that the work is legitimate.
It is important for all tenants to know the rental history and determine why the rent is high; in general rental histories are not public record. However, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal which oversees rent regulated dwellings can provide this information if the tenant complaints of an unjustified rent increase.
It appears that for decades, Bronstein Properties has been taking advantage of its tenants, mainly because of a lack of transparency as well as the fact that most tenants were unaware of their rights.
This lawsuit aims to change things and is being aided by the Housing Rights Initiative which aims to target all landlords who charge exorbitant rents. So far the Housing Rights Initiative has filed several class action lawsuits against many landlords.