The New York Times
Should I Swap My Rent-Stabilized Apartment?
Ask Real Estate
By RONDA KAYSEN
Q.I am a rent-stabilized tenant in a two-bedroom apartment in a building that consists mostly of owners. A neighbor has offered me a substantial amount of money to move to a studio apartment that he owns so he can buy my unit. He says he would charge me the same rent that I am currently paying, which is about $1,200 a month. Even though I’d be paying the same amount of money in rent for a smaller space, the money he’s offering me as a buyout is almost too good to pass up. What are my rights here? Could he drastically raise the rent in the future or must he abide by the rent-stabilization laws even though the studio is free-market? Would my leaving a rent-stabilized apartment for a free-market studio in the same building automatically cancel my current status?
A. If you give up your current apartment, you will also give up your rent-stabilized status. You cannot transfer those precious protections to a new apartment. You could draw up a lease or contract with your new landlord that mimics many of the terms of rent-stabilization, like incremental rent increases and tenancy for life. But, if any problems arise in the future, you will not be able to turn to the city agencies that protect stabilized tenants because you won’t be one. So, if you decide to consider this option, understand that you’re giving up not only the ample space of a two-bedroom apartment, but also a valuable commodity.
“I would advise against this kind of offer unless the neighbor pays him enough money that it’s worth it to him,” said Jeffrey C. McAdams, a lawyer who represents tenants.
If you’re open to the possibility, discuss the issue with the neighbor. Find out how much he would be willing to pay you to move. Remember, if the neighbor is planning on using your apartment to combine it with another one, he’s buying a very valuable asset from you. It might be worth his while to offer you a substantial sum, one that you could use for a down payment on an apartment of your own.
The Shalom Tenants Alliance has a buyout calculator that could help you figure out how much of a windfall you’ll actually get from a buyout. Remember, there are tax implications to consider as well. If you decide to go forward with the plan, enlist a lawyer to draw up a contract, although it might end up costing a bundle in legal fees. Make sure the document is recorded in the county clerk’s office. One other detail to consider: The two of you might agree to a contract that provides you with many of the existing protections of rent-stabilization, but if new legislation strengthens the rights of rent-stabilized tenants in the future, you won’t be eligible for any of those changes.
Unloading a Fixer Upper
Q.I’m in the process of selling my Manhattan co-op. The feedback I have received is that the bathroom and kitchen aren’t renovated. I have no plans to renovate before selling and have lowered the asking price to reflect this. Could I put a contingency in the contract that would allow the buyer to begin renovations on the apartment before the sale is finalized?
West Village, Manhattan
A. Don’t underestimate the value in that dated kitchen of yours. Many a buyer has eyes only for a diamond in the rough: that perfect two-bedroom that’s been deeply discounted because of its avocado green commode with gold wallpaper. Given that we’re in a seller’s market with incredibly low inventory, I suspect that buyers will jump at anything in the West Village, stained Formica or not.
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“There is a huge market out there for this,” said Eileen Robert, a broker at the Corcoran Group who specializes in estate sales and is in the midst of two bidding wars over fixer-uppers. “There are an awful lot of people who want to fix up an apartment and do not want to have to take out somebody else’s high-priced renovations.”
It’s good that your broker has advised you to lower the price to reflect the dated décor. But do not allow a prospective buyer to let the contractors loose before you’ve closed the deal. The scenarios for disaster are endless. Here’s one to chew on: The seller demolishes your kitchen, finds out he doesn’t qualify for a mortgage, and then walks away leaving you with a construction site.
“I think it’s an awful idea,” said Andrew B. Freedland, a lawyer who handles real estate transactions. “What happens if something happens that prevents the closing? And now you have a partially finished renovation and the buyer is going to come back and say, ‘I can’t close, you owe me for the renovation.’ ”
You say you are opposed to updating the apartment before the sale. But you might want to consider a few modest upgrades that would liven up those dreary rooms. If the super does side jobs after hours, you could employ him to give the bathroom a fresh coat of paint. While you’re at it, you could swap out an aging medicine cabinet with a new $100 one from Home Depot.
“Paint is a must that always transforms a space,” said Cheryl Eisen, the president of the Interior Marketing Group. a staging company in New York City that frequently handles staging for estate sales. “You can give the bathroom a dark neutral paint that gives it class and drama.” As for the kitchen, you could replace dated hardware with something more modern and repaint old cabinets. A pretty bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter goes a long way, too, Ms. Eisen said. But whatever you do, don’t let a buyer take a sledgehammer to those fixtures until you have your closing documents in hand.
The Nudist Dishwasher
Q.We have a neighbor who always works in the kitchen at the counter opposite our window and her lack of undergarments is very obvious. When she bends over, we can see her exposed backside and, if she’s facing us, her bare bosom hangs out of her top. We like her and really want to find a way to let her know we are seeing way too much of her.
A. Before you approach your neighbor on this one, take the Jersey Shore litmus test: Is her display more risqué than anything you would see at the beach on a hot day in August? If the answer is no, let her lapse in modesty go.
But f her exposure veers into the X-rated category, and you are worried that other neighbors also have access to this accidental peep show, then you might want to clue her in.
“As a courtesy, as a friend, you might want to give her a heads up,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert. “But it’s a judgment call.”
If you do approach her, make the conversation as friendly and casual as possible so that she does not feel judged and you do not appear overly prudish (or like a nosy neighbor). Let her know that you are concerned that other neighbors might also be able to see her and, if you were in her position, you would want to know. But keep in mind that your neighbor might, in fact, not care that she’s so visible. If you find that to be the case, don’t raise the issue again and consider investing in a set of kitchen curtains.
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