The Year of the Roach

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Q: I live in a rent-stabilized apartment.  It has roaches and other problems at the refrigerator, the door lock, the fire-escape window and the stove.  Five years ago, the situation was already so bad that the Division of Housing and Community Renewal ordered a rent reduction.

The owner failed to make any repairs; I continued to pay the unreduced rent.  After a while, he sold the building.  The new owner also failed to make any repairs.  I continued to pay the unreduced rent, and I even entered into a new lease, at a greater rent.  Finally, I have decided to listen to my mother-in-law.

A: If the lady is telling you to file a rent overcharge claim, the claim is subject to a four-year statute of limitations.  Examination of the rental history is limited to the four-year period preceding the filing of an overcharge complaint.  The purpose of the four-year limitations or look-back period is to alleviate the burden on an honest landlord to retain rent records indefinitely.

However, the law wants owners to provide necessary services, compensate tenants deprived of those services, and preserve and maintain the housing stock.  Your DHCR rent-reduction order is not a record in the landlord’s files: better put, it is an order in the files of the DHCR.  Certainly, the DHCR can take notice of its own orders and rent registrations without imposing onerous obligations on a landlord.

Rent reduction orders – that are still in effect during the four-year period – are in fact part of the rental history that the DHCR must consider.  Despite this, the landlord will argue that your claim is barred by a doctrine called laches.  Under laches, you can be barred from bringing your claim to the extent that your delay caused “prejudice” to the landlord.

Apparently, you have delayed in opposing the excessive rent for about five years.  In theory, the first or the second landlord can establish “prejudice” by showing some kind of injury, change of position, loss of evidence or other disadvantage resulting from your delay.  However, laches must be pleaded and proved by the party asserting it, i.e. the landlord.  A skillful tenant’s lawyer can make it very hard for the landlord to succeed.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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