FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Thousands of apartments in Lower Manhattan are eligible for rent stabilization — but it's a benefit that's likely still unknown to many of the buildings’ residents.
Meanwhile, the opportunity to lower rent — and keep it from skyrocketing — is fading.
Despite a publicized legal case in 2010 that paved the way for more than 5,000 apartments in the Financial District to become rent regulated, building owners have not jumped to comply, housing advocates say.
So, figuring out whether your building should be regulated and pursuing the stabilization is in the renters' hands.
Below you’ll find a map of all the buildings we could find that could be rent stabilized in Lower Manhattan. We’re also going to tell you how to go about getting that regulation.
But first, here’s a little history about why these buildings, most of which are considered luxury, should be stabilized.
It all centers around a tax abatement called 421g. The program, launched in 1995, gave a tax incentive to developers who agreed to convert their Financial District commercial properties into residential buildings.
Owners were given an 80 percent tax break on their property taxes for 12 to 14 years and, in exchange, they were supposed to become rent stabilized.
Stabilized apartments have their rent regulated by the Rent Guidelines Board, which sets what percent owners can increase it each year. Regulated apartments also get other benefits — for instance, you have the chance to renew your lease for as long as you like and family members also have the opportunity to keep the rent regulated apartment.
Once the owner’s tax abatement deal is over, they won't be subject to rent regulation and can rent at market rate. The state stopped offering the program in 2006.
A bit of a loophole, however, led many of the building owners to contend that if an apartment was rented at more than $2,000 — a rate benchmark nearly all of the units surpassed — they didn’t need to offer stabilization, and they haven’t.
After years of owners enjoying millions in tax breaks, Maverick Scott, a renter at 37 Wall St., argued in a 2010 court case that his luxury building — where he was paying $4,920 a month in rent — should always have been rent stabilized because it was receiving a 421g tax abatement.
A housing court judge agreed with Scott, which set the precedent for potentially rent regulating thousands of other apartments, says his lawyer Serge Joseph, along with housing advocates and city leaders.
Scott’s legal battle began due to poor conditions in his apartment. He later figured out that his building was getting the tax break, so he threw the 421g argument into his case, Joseph said.
The case for rent regulation of buildings getting 421g tax breaks was also bolstered in May when Manhattan Supreme Court judge Shlomo Hagler ruled that luxury building 25 Broad St. should be rent stabilized because it received the abatement.
Also important for renters: the building's tax abatement already ended but, because the renters had been living there while it was getting the tax break, they can still be eligible for rent regulation.
Joseph, at a recent Community Board 1 meeting, said he's also working on another case now where his client's rent was increased 28 percent at 85 John St. after living there for seven years. After the huge hike, they decided to look into his building finances and found out the 421g status.
If you want to figure out if your building is getting the tax benefit, you don't have to wait for problems to arise. You can check out our map below, or head to the Department of Finance, where anyone can look up his or her building’s tax benefit status. Many of the buildings' 421g benefits are ending soon — 85 John St., for example, is slated to end in June — so it's important to act quickly.
The blue dots on the map show where 421g has already ended in some buildings — but, if you're still living there and the building was never regulated, you still have a chance at stabilization, even though the landlord is no longer getting the tax break.
You, hopefully, will not need to take legal action if you find that your building has the 421g status. If it does, you can fill out a rent overcharge form at the state's Division of Housing and Urban Renewal, which you can find here.
You could be eligible for back rent pay as well as damages and a lower rent.
Joseph encourages talking to the landlord as the first step, letting them know that their lease did not say the apartment should be rent stabilized but, according to 421g tax exemption, they should be regulated.
But renters can also choose to take their landlords to court.
If you find that you're supposed to be living in a rent regulated building, even if the building's tax exemption is ending soon, you can remain stabilized for as long as you live in the building, Joseph said.
Also, if you've been living in your building for several years and find out that the tax exemption recently expired, you can still be eligible for rent stabilization since your rent was supposed to have been regulated, but never was.