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A too-large mortgage on your building may be a warning to tenants

When tenants have a problem with a landlord, they often see it from the narrow perspective of their single issue. This is reasonable. If you suddenly find yourself with a dispute over your rent or repairs to your apartment, it can become overwhelming very quickly. The terminology of New York's rent laws and making time to appear in court if necessary can be confusing and disorienting.

You dispute may be more than you can deal with on your own. You may find it necessary to turn to an attorney for help. However, your dispute may be part of a larger plan to move you and other tenants from the property.

One woman in Harlem, who lived in a rent-stabilized building, noticed that the owner was attempting to turn the apartments into condominiums. As part of the deal, the landlord had to first offer the current tenants the right to purchase the unit, but only had 10 takers out of 51 units. They could remain in the building as long as they adhered to the terms of their lease.

She also happened to be a housing attorney and became suspicious when she found the landlord had a very large mortgage on a group of buildings with modest rents. She contacted other tenants and found that some were being pressured to move. One-quarter of the tenants had been sued by the landlord on frivolous legal claims, which she viewed as an effort to make life so difficult that the tenants would leave.

She also recognized that this pattern and practice was facilitated by large banks that provide financing that would be unsustainable if the building remained in the hands of rent-stabilized tenants. Without this seemingly innocent financing, these practices could not continue.

Similar tactics were discovered being used on tenants in buildings in Brooklyn. If you suddenly see your rent increasing or groundless lawsuits being brought against you or other tenants in your building, you too may be a victim of this tactic.

Source: thenation.com, "How Banks and Developers Collude to Get Rid of New York's Affordable Housing," DW Gibson, April 5, 2016

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