Another tenant-landlord legal battle

Yesterday the Daily News reported that a number of tenants in a Jamaica building are suing their landlord, “for charging them large lump sums for building improvements they claim were never adequately made and were an effort to force them out of their homes.”

It’s a good lawsuit, by rent-stabilized tenants, whose rent raises were approved by the State of New York, after Zara Realty Holding Corp., the landlord, applied for rent increases, per the rent stabilization laws, because they claimed they’d made certain big improvements.

“But landlords are only allowed to raise rents 6 % annually for rent-stabilized tenants, according to the tenants’ lawyers — not ask for one bulk payment.”

Two non-profit entities, the Catholic Migration Office and Queens Legal Services, are representing the tenants.

This lawsuit reminds me that, decades ago, when all of us (“us,” meaning my friends, et al.) were renters under rent control or stabilization laws, two lawyers published a book, a manual really, covering tenants rights and covering them so thoroughly that once you read the book, you understood exactly what your position as a renter was, what landlords could or couldn’t do to you, and where to go for free help if a landlord threatened what seemed like an egregious rent raise or eviction.

I don’t remember the name of the book or its authors but it was The Tenants Bible and was infinitely more useful than any “holy” book. I kept it on the shelf with the dictionary and Roget’s. It was well-thumbed.

Every couple of years, the lawyers published an updated edition, incorporating whatever new legislation applied to our situation.

The City now has on its expansive website what would seem to be a complete section on tenants rights.

I doubt the official government version feels as deliciously subversive as did that long-ago manual, which made us all guerrillas in our legal battles against landlords. It is the model for the book I’m writing about living through lawsuits.

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