There are two types of New York renters: Those who live in rent-regulated apartments, and those that don't. More often than not, the latter group desperately wants to be part of the first (market-rate rents are kind of high), but rent-stabilized apartments can be difficult to find—or are they?
According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, there are about 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in NYC. What makes them elusive is the fact that once someone nabs a rent-stabilized apartment, they’re unlikely to leave. Plus, the city has lost thousands of rent-regulated apartments due to laws that make it easier for landlords to take them out of regulation.
That may change thanks to major reforms to New York’s rent-stabilization laws, which passed in the state legislature earlier this year. Those landmark tenant protections will codify the state’s rent regulations rules permanently, rather than have them sunset every few years.
So how do you join the rent-stabilized ranks? Follow these four easy steps.
Step 1: Know what rent stabilization is.
Rent stabilization is a form of rent regulation in New York that’s overseen by the New York state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). It is different, but related to, rent control. For an apartment to be rent-controlled, the same tenant, or a "lawful successor" of that tenant (i.e. a family member or spouse), needs to have been living in the apartment continuously since 1971. No new rent-controlled apartments are created, and needless to say, they are extremely hard—basically impossible—to come by, which is why this isn't "The Guide to Finding a Rent-Controlled Apartment in NYC."
Rent stabilization generally applies to buildings with six or more units that were built before 1974, but thanks to certain tax abatements used by developers, some new buildings are also rent-stabilized. Until very recently, stabilized apartments could become deregulated if the rent exceeded $2,700 and the tenant leaves. Thanks to rent reforms enacted by the state legislature this year, that practice—known as vacancy decontrol—has been repealed, as has a landlord’s ability to raise a stabilized apartment’s rent by 20 percent in between tenants.
Every June, the Rent Guidelines Board convenes to vote on how much stabilized and controlled rents should be raised for the following year. The most recent vote set increases of 1.5 percent for one-year leases, and 2.5 percent for two-year leases, which will go into effect on October 1.
TL;DR: Rent-stabilized apartments have rents regulated by the government, which means that landlords can only raise rents by a set amount each year.
Step 2: Figure out which apartments are rent stabilized.
This step actually has a few different steps, and they all take some time and diligence. Let's break it down:
Search official databases: The Rent Guidelines Board maintains a list of all buildings registered with the DHCR. It’s a fantastic resource, but the PDF files are unruly. They’re broken out into borough, then sorted by zip code, but they are still huge. (The document for Brooklyn is 339 pages.) However, the document does note if a building is stabilized because of a tax abatement, which is useful. Alternatively, you can search by address on DHCR's website, so if you spot a listing that you think might be rent-stabilized, you can look it up. One important thing to note: Neither of these resources says which units in these buildings remain stabilized.
Go where the stabilized units are: The data wizards at NYU’s Furman Center For Real Estate and Urban Policy released a report in January 2015 charting where New York's subsidized housing is located. It shows the highest concentrations to be in Upper Manhattan (Harlem), the South Bronx, and central Brooklyn (Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens), so these areas are a good place to start your search. Use the tips suggested above to narrow the results in these specific areas.
Narrow your search criteria: Since most buildings constructed between February 1, 1947 and January 1, 1974 contains rent-stabilized apartments, hone in on older buildings. But remember: Not all of these will be stabilized, so your best bet is to cross-check with the databases referenced above.
Literally search for rent-stabilized apartments: On StreetEasy, searching for rentals with the keyword “stabilized” brings up close to 200 options. Ditto Craigslist, although the usual caveats when searching for apartments on that platform apply. Point being, you can use the keyword “rent stabilized” or some combination thereof to narrow your options when searching.
TL;DR: You don't really care about finding a rent-stabilized apartment, do you? There is no shortcut here.
Step 3: Make sure you actually sign a rent-stabilized lease.
If you've found a rent-stabilized apartment and are ready to sign the lease, congratulations! You're almost there, but first you have to make sure your lease is actually a proper rent-stabilized lease. (Here's an example of a standard rent-stabilized lease.) The lease should state that the apartment is rent stabilized, and landlords are legally required to include a rent stabilization rider with the lease. Rent-stabilized leases also must be for one or two years; there is no such thing as a six-month rent-stabilized lease.
If a landlord is trying to skirt the rules, he or she likely won't include any mention of rent regulation or stabilization in the lease documents, let alone mention DHCR. So if you think the apartment that you rented is supposed to be rent-stabilized, request a rent history from DHCR. (The agency has a one-stop portal, called NYS Rent Connect, where you can easily do this.) This may lead to a fraught legal battle with your landlord, but it can be worth it if you can get your rent lowered.
Step 4: Move in and stay put.
Landlords are required to offer a renewal for all rent-stabilized leases, so once you're settled in your regulated apartment, you'll never be forced to give it up.