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Ask Curbed: Have I Been Paying Too Much Rent?

Our weakness for a juicy rent-stabilization tale compels us to bring you this reader missive, which, despite all the numbers, reads like a novel:

My girlfriend and I have a question regarding rent stabilized apartments. Upon the urging of a friend who once worked with the Public housing authority, we did some research on the rent history of her apartment and found some very interesting results.

She moved into an alphabet city apartment (6th floor walk-up) near ave D in August of 1996. According to the rent history her landlord provided to the DHCR, the rent was $445.33 before 1995. Another tenant moved in who's lease began on 11/15/1995 and ended on 11/14/1996, odd considering that [my girlfriend] moved in in August 1996.

It was under the tenant living in the apartment from 11/15/95 to 11/14/96 that the legal regulated rent was raised from $445.33 to $1600. He was paying what is titled a "preferred rental rate" of 1000.00. According to our calculations it seems to be mathematically impossible to have increased the rent to this degree. Therefore the base rent that has been used as a standard in all of her negotiations for the last several years has been greatly inflated. Her original lease in 1996 was 1900.00, with a "preferred rate" of $1300.00.

She has lived with and without a lease for several years and the increases do not seem to be based on a standard increase rate or coincide with capital improvements to the building. The MCI that was legally filed in 1997 only allowed for a $23.52 per month increase. And that increase was based on an inflated rent in the first place. Also we discovered that the landlord deregulated her apartment way back in 2002 according to the DHCR records due to 'High Rent Vacancy'. Odd, considering that she have been in residence continually since 1996. We know that reports to the DHCR are not an attestment of the legal rent, but the only way to determine that is to file an abatement with the city.

The building itself is in disrepair and often experiences power disruptions, refuse in the stairwells, broken front doors, and most problematic - a reoccurring leak in the ceiling of her bedroom that pours water into her apartment when it rains. She has been without a lease since August 1st 2007 and has been asked to resign a lease with a significant increase. She would like to know what rights she is entitled and if she has been paying too much in rent for all of these years.

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