Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer

Ask Sam: Can my landlord evict me from my rent-stabilized apartment so that his relative can move in?

A bill currently in the New York State Senate would make it harder for landlords to kick out tenants and take their apartments for themselves. 

Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

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Question:

My landlord is threatening to evict me from my rent-stabilized apartment so that a relative of his can move in. What are my rights? Isn't there a new law that makes this illegal?

Answer:

A proposed new state law concerning "owner use," now under consideration in the New York State Senate, would make it more difficult for landlords to kick out rent-stabilized tenants on the grounds that they want to move family members in, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

Under existing owner use law, however, your landlord can decline to renew your rent-stabilized lease if your landlord needs the apartment as a home for himself or for close relatives. Your landlord must give you 90 to 150 days notice before your lease expires and demonstrate they have plans to move their family or themselves into the unit, but otherwise, the requirements are slack.

“The landlord only has to prove ‘good faith’ to recover the apartment,” Himmelstein says. “Good faith is easy—all they have to allege and prove is that they have an ‘honest intention and desire’ to have a family member who they want to live there.”

You can defend yourself by showing that the landlord's desire is not genuine, or that the owner use law is being used as a subterfuge, to remove a tenant (you) with whom the landlord has had a history of animosity, or simply to recover the apartment and rent it to a new tenant at a higher rent.

Under the proposed new law, however, landlords would have to prove an immediate and compelling necessity to move into stabilized apartments. They’d also have to demonstrate that the apartment they want to take over is the only one available, that they don’t own any other buildings, and there have been no recent vacancies.

“It’s a very hard standard to meet. It almost has to be an emergency,” Himmelstein says.

The bill would also limit landlords to recovering one apartment, whereas under current law, they could take over entire buildings through owner-use eviction.

Other protections would be expanded as well.

“Right now, landlords who evict anyone who is over 62 or disabled have to relocate them to a very closely proximate area, and to superior or equivalent stabilized accommodations,” Himmelstein explains. “The new law would extend that to anyone who has been in possession of the apartment for 15 years or more.”

The bill is one of several currently in the State Senate that would expand the rights of New York City renters. So how likely is this legislation to pass?

It’s difficult to predict, but its chances may not be as good as some of the other proposals, because it would affect fewer people.

“Even the current owner use law only applies in buildings owned individually, not by corporations or partnerships, like townhouses and brownstones with six to eight units,” Himmelstein says. “You never see owner use cases in larger buildings. So politically, this probably doesn’t have as much of an impact.”

In the meantime, though, you may be able to protect yourself from eviction by investigating whether your landlord has done this before. Read this previous column about how to respond to owner-use evictions.

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Ask Sam: What are the rules for evicting rent-stabilized tenants in NYC? (sponsored)

Read all our Ask a Renters Rights Lawyer columns here.


Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam at shimmelstein@hmgdjlaw.com or call (212) 349-3000.