Landlord Charging Unfair Rents? Here’s The Bottom Line

Tuesday Tips is a series of articles from local experts to help you save money, make better decisions and plan for a better future.

A reader sent Sheepshead Bites the following letter this week:

I live in a two bedroom apartment in a Voorhies Avenue co-op. I wanted to discuss unfair rents where some people are charged $1,700 for a two bedroom, which is fair – a bit much, but fair – and others are charged up to $2,400. Let’s not forget the fact that the landlord (not the porter or the super) is lazy and won’t get anything done! He’s in it for the money – he owns half the building’s apartments!

The question basically is if it is okay for a landlord to charge $1,700 for a two bedroom apartment, and charge $2,400 for another, comparable apartment?  In other words, is it legal to have such a large discrepancy in rent?

The second part basically states that the rent is unfair because the landlord never did anything. I’ll address that further down.

So, can the landlord do this?  The answer is, with a few small caveats, yes.

The market is the market is the market. So long as the landlord is not pricing the apartment different based on someone’s race, sex, nationality, et cetera, the landlord can rent the space for whatever amount he thinks he will be able to get for the space.

If, however, he offers $1,700 to a white couple with a child, and then four hours later is approached by a Hispanic man and decides to charge $2,500, then something is amiss.  For all practical purposes, however, without the above, it’s the landlord’s units and therefore he may charge whatever they feel appropriate.  It’s also, in a practical sense, in the landlord’s interest to charge an amount to get the place rented in the quickest way possible.

So, to answer the question, unless this is a a Section 8 apartment, or the landlord is purposefully discriminating people, the landlord conduct is legal.

Now to the second part.  Let’s say you’ve rented the place, and the landlord is not keeping up his share of the bargain.  The heating doesn’t work, the plumbing doesn’t work, et cetera.  At that point, you would go directly to Landlord/Tenant Court in Brooklyn, and sue the landlord.

Landlord’s are required to provide certain  conditions in an apartment they own and rent out (heat and water are just two of them).  The Court may allow you to abate (reduce the rent), or even, in certain cases, declare that the landlord breached the lease.

However, be aware of what you’re complaining about. If the building itself isn’t in tip-top shape, and, for instance, the flowers aren’t being watered enough, or an elevator doesn’t work on some days, your care will become ridiculously more difficult and could in fact be a waste of time.  There are obviously different variables in each specific situation, so you definitely want to talk to a lawyer before taking your next step.

Got a question you want answered? Send it to us!

Daniel Gershburg Esq., is a real estate and bankruptcy attorney with offices in Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan. The practice was specifically set up to change the way people view attorneys, by incorporating radical ideas like calling people back quickly, returning emails, giving clients ’round the clock access to their cases and charging low fees. For more information please visit Brooklyn Real Estate Attorney Daniel Gershburg‘s website.


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