Tenants of 6,000 Downtown Apartments May Be Owed Back Rent

(THE CITY) , October 8, 2019

Thousands of renters in Lower Manhattan should have had stabilized leases and may be owed years of back rent, according to a recent court ruling — but few know it.

Those who do have been waging a legal battle over a rent-stabilization deal that was not applied or enforced for years.

Renters in two buildings  — 50 Murray St. and 90 West St. — started with separate court battles, but ended with a united legal victory. New York’s highest court ruled 6 to 1 in June that because the landlords reaped millions of dollars in tax benefits under a 1995 program, their tenants should have had stabilized leases.

Serge Joseph, who represented the tenants, said the ruling could be a boon for thousands of other downtowners whose landlords got the same tax break — and predicted more battles to come.

“It would not surprise me if landlords throughout Lower Manhattan disregard the decision altogether,” he said.

The ruling opens the door for current or former tenants of the affected buildings to claim they were overcharged rent going back six years, Joseph said — a statute of limitations recently extended from four years by rent reforms made in Albany.

Chissy Nkemere, a former tenant at 90 West St., said she feels lucky — not just because of the legal conclusion, but because she and her neighbors were able to stick out the case since 2015.

“You have to really be in a privileged position in order to even fight these things,” she told THE CITY. “Most people just leave and give up.”