There is no official list somewhere that definitively tells the world which apartments are subject to Rent Stabilization and which are not. The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (“DHCR”) has jurisdiction over matters relating to Rent Stabilization and the DHCR maintains some records. But the records the DHCR maintains contain information that is largely self-reported by landlords and that is not controlling with regard to an apartment’s Rent Stabilization status. Therefore, year after year, a landlord can report to the DHCR that an apartment is “permanently exempt”, but that does not make it so.
Moreover, a current or former tenant may have signed a document acknowledging that an apartment is not subject to Rent Stabilization. But this, also, does not make it so. Parties may not contract out of Rent Stabilization coverage. See RSC § 2520.13 (Waiver of benefit void); Drucker v. Mauro, 30 A.D.3d 37 (1st Dept 2006) (“It is well settled that the parties to a lease governing a rent-stabilized apartment cannot, by agreement, incorporate terms that compromise the integrity and enforcement of the Rent Stabilization Law.”)
It is very important to keep in mind that a court or the DHCR can look back as far as they want to determine whether an apartment is subject to Rent Stabilization. While a rent overcharge claim is subject to a four-year look back period, a claim for improper destabilization is not. 72A Realty Associates v. Lucas, 28 Misc.3d 585 (N.Y.City Civ.Ct., 2010), Affirmed as Modified by 72A Realty Associates v. Lucas 32 Misc.3d 47, (AT1st 2011), Affirmed as Modified by 72A Realty Associates v. Lucas, 101 A.D.3d 401, (1st Dept. 2012); Gersten v. 56 7th Avenue LLC, 88 AD3d 189 (1st Dept. 2013).
How do you ever get a definitive answer on an apartment’s Rent Stabilization status? With some exceptions, the last word on whether an apartment is Rent Stabilized is in the hands of the courts or the DHCR. Until a judge is satisfied that an apartment is not Rent Stabilized, the matter is always, in some measure, unsettled.
Why is this so complicated? Because it is. There are many statutes and mountains of case law, stretching back to the 1970’s, that, when woven together, make up the rent regulatory scheme in New York City. Often enough the various courts and agencies do not agree with one another on vital topics (think High Rent Vacancy Deregulation under J-51 or the Altman case); and when the authorities do not agree, it takes years for their disputes to percolate up to the New York’s highest court for a definitive answer. There are rules, and exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions to the rules. And it’s getting harder all the time…