If you’re confused by rent regulation
laws, you’re in good company.
“Not for the novice or faint of
heart,” says real estate attorney
Lucas Ferrara of Newman Ferrara,
and the author of a 2,000-page
book on landlord-tenant law.
“New York’s rent regulation laws
have been called ‘an impenetrable
thicket, confusing not only to
laymen but to lawyers’ by no less an
authority than New York’s highest
court,” says litigation partner Dani
Schwartz of real estate law firm
Rosenberg & Estis.
So let’s try to cut through the
First things first: Many people
assume “rent control” and “rent
stabilization” are the same.
Rent control, the older of the two,
has origins in the world wars, when
resources for housing construction
were scarce and rental prices shot
up. To avoid mass displacement, the
state passed regulations covering
apartments in buildings constructed
before 1947. Due to attrition—they’re
decontrolled upon vacancy—only
about 1 percent of New York City
apartments are now rent-controlled.
Rent stabilization, too, was passed
in response to a housing emergency.
In 1969, the city was in decline, and
deterioration of housing stock had
outstripped construction. Plummeting
vacancy rates emboldened landlords
to raise rents by as much as 40
percent, so regulations were deemed
necessary. But since rent control
was perceived as discouraging new
construction, the new rent regulations
gave more control to landlords.
Generally, rental buildings built
before 1974 with at least six units
are rent stabilized; there are still
about 1 million rent-stabilized
apartments in New York City.
They tend to be far less expensive
than market-rate apartments, so
they’re highly sought after. Once in,
people tend to stay put. Still, for the
tenacious and/or lucky, it’s possible
to land one.
Rent-stabilized leases provide
certain rights for tenants. Lease
renewals are guaranteed, and
rent can be increased only by a
percentage determined every
June by the New York City Rent
Guidelines Board. (Rent increases
for one-year leases have ranged
from 11 percent in 1980 to zero
percent this year.)
The amount of the increase and
other provisions are fiercely fought
over, of course, but power struggles
aren’t limited to that annual duel. If
landlords catch tenants flouting the
law, or their lease, they may be able
to evict them. “You will have people
on both sides of the aisle trying to
Untangling New York’s super-confusing
rent regulation laws BY MARISA BOWE
game the system,” says Ferrara.
“Subletting is a massive
issue at the moment,” says Dov
Treiman, chair of Adam Leitman
Bailey’s landlord-tenant civil
litigation practice. Doing so with
the landlord’s approval is legal,
though tenants are not allowed to
charge more than their rent unless
they sublet the apartment fully
furnished. But, says Treiman, “it is
so terrifically profitable to sublet
that tenants are highly incentivized
This is particularly true in recent
years thanks to Airbnb and other
online lodging-rental websites.
In direct response to Airbnb’s
massive growth in New York City,
New York state passed the Illegal
Hotel Law in 2010 to outlaw short-term rentals of less than 30 days.
The law, which took effect on May
1, 2011, allows short-term paying
It’s complicated. “The case law
guests if the tenants are present—
but their leases may not. In Ferrara’s
words, “Airbnb is a legal minefield
So how can tenants know if their
Airbnb hosting is legal or not?
is still developing,” says Schwartz.
“Some courts have considered this
2014 flatly stating, “Most private
kind of opportunism as a violation
of New York’s Multiple Dwelling
Law, applicable rent stabilization
regulations and fire safety laws
It’s less complicated for the New
York state attorney general’s office,
which issued a report in October
short-term rentals booked in New
York City violated the law.”