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Most people living in rent-stabilized apartments are already aware of their apartment’s special status. At the same time, it isn’t unheard of for New York City residents to find themselves living in a rent-stabilized unit and not realize it. This article outlines how to research your rental unit’s status and explains why doing so could help you maintain and even restore a unit’s intended rental rate.

What is a rent-stabilized apartment?

To begin, rent-stabilized apartments are not the same thing as rent-controlled apartments. For an apartment to be rent-controlled, the building must have been built before 1947, and a tenant or family member must have lived in the unit since July 1971. In fact, the only way to obtain a rent-controlled apartment is through a family member, which explains why there are only roughly 16,000 such units left in the city compared to over 1 million rent-stabilized units.

While not as rare, rent-stabilized apartments still must meet several criteria. Generally, they are apartments found in buildings with at least six units or more. If the apartment was first leased before June 1971, the building must have been built before 1947. If the apartment was leased after June 1971, the building must have been built between 1947 and 1974. However, a small percentage of rent-stabilized units are found in newly constructed buildings—namely, those receiving tax breaks for renting out at least some units below market rate (see more about these here).

How to Find Out if You’re Occupying a Rent-Stabilized Apartment

Technically, if you’re renting a rent-stabilized apartment, the status of the unit should be clearly stated in your original lease or lease renewal. If you haven’t signed a lease indicating that the unit is rent-stabilized and suspect the unit is rent-stabilized, however, it may be worth doing additional research.

The easiest way to determine if your apartment is rent stabilized is to fill out an online form made available by the NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the agency that regulates rent-stabilized units. The same form can be used to obtain a complete rental history of the unit. While this is the best way to confirm the rent-stabilized status of your unit, it is sometimes possible to do the research on your own.

As already noted, to be rent-stabilized, the unit generally must meet the aforementioned criteria (e.g., be in a building that contains six or more units and, be built before 1974, not be in a co-op or condo, etc.). However, there are many exceptions, and this can and does lead to confusion.
If a tenant moved into a building prior to the building converting to a co-op or condo, a unit might still be rent-stabilized. An easy way to find out if there are any rent-stabilized apartments in your building, even if it is a co-op or condo, is to do a search using one of the following HCR lists:

While these lists don’t indicate which units in a building are still rent-stabilized, they can help determine if your building has ever contained one or more rent-stabilized units. That said, the lists aren’t entirely accurate because, as stated by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, the lists only include those buildings that have “filed records with the NYS Homes and Community Renewal at least one time from 1984 to the present year.”

In addition, it is important to recognize that just because a unit was once rent-stabilized doesn’t mean it is still rent-stabilized. Although there are no longer thresholds (see Rent Laws of 2019 for more details), until 2019, if a unit’s rent tipped over a certain price point, it would no longer be protected from future rent increases. For this reason, when researching your apartment, it is also important to research its historic rent rates. For an apartment to be rent-stabilized, it normally must meet the following criteria:

  • Have had a rent of less than $2,000, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between 1993 and June 23, 2011.
  • Have had a rent of less than $2,500, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between June 24, 2011 and June 14, 2015.
  • Have had a rent of less than $2,700, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between June 15, 2015 and December 31, 2017.
  • Have had a rent of less than $2,733.75, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018.
  • Have had a rent of less than $2,774.76, if a tenant initially moved into the apartment between January 1, 2019 and June 13, 2019.

Still, there are a few exceptions to the above rule. Newly constructed, tax-exempt buildings may include units that always exceeded the above limits, and yet are still considered rent-stabilized.

Steps to Take If You’re Paying Market Rent for a Rent-Stabilized Apartment

If you discover that you’re living in an apartment that should be rent-stabilized (e.g., the unit underwent an illegal rent increase that pushed it above the rent-stabilization threshold before 2019), you may want to raise the matter with your landlord or management company. Proving that a unit was rent-stabilized and illegally priced out of its status, however, can be challenging. For example, the owner may argue that the unit was priced above the rent-stabilization threshold due to a significant capital improvement. The more research you can do in advance and the stronger case you can build, the more likely it is that the complaint will lead to a rent reduction and the reinstatement of the unit’s rent-stabilized status.

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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.