The Post reports that a Manhattan judge sided this week with Oltimdje Ouattara, a cab driver who claimed he was entitled to a lifelong rent-controlled lease at the Chelsea Highline Hotel. Ouattara rented a room in August, then requested a six-month lease. The hotel was registered with the city as an SRO, and as decreed by a little-known law, the landlord was technically required to give him a rent-regulated lease for life.
At least two other residents in the Chelsea Highline Hotel had similarly scored super-cheap rooms thanks to the law—one cab driver, Hamidou Guira, got a $226/month room back in August, after a hard-won legal battle, and another driver, Joe Stevens, has been paying similar rent for the last two decades. But Ouattara was even luckier, since his space was officially listed for a $0/month rent, and now he's got a free room for as long as he wants it. The only problem is that he can't get into it now.
The hotel's landlord locked Ouattara out of the space after he requested the lease, and the cabbie's been sharing a studio in the Bronx with five other people for the last few months. The Manhattan Housing Court judge, Sabrina Kraus, ruled in Ouattara's favor, and argued that the landlord should have known Ouattara had a right to live in the room after Guira's legal battle last summer.
Here's the SRO law in question, and note that while anyone can score a rent-stabilized room using said law, doing so will likely result in a drawn-out legal battle:
In New York City, for a hotel to be subject to the Code, it must have been constructed on or before July 1, 1969, and contain six or more housing accommodations. Rentals for the individual hotel housing accommodations must have been less than $350.00 per month or $88.00 per week on May 31, 1968. The Code defines a hotel as any class A or B Multiple Dwelling which provides basic hotel services such as maid, linen, use and upkeep of furniture, and switchboard and other desk-type facilities. This full range of hotel services may not necessarily be required to qualify as a hotel in certain Class B Multiple Dwellings, such as rooming-houses and some SRO's.
A hotel occupant may only be protected by rent stabilization if he or she becomes a "permanent tenant." A permanent tenant is an individual or his or her family member residing with such individual, who: (1) has continuously resided in the same building as a principal residence for a period of at least six months; or (2) who requests a lease of six months or more; or (3) who is in occupancy pursuant to a lease of six months or more even if actual occupancy is less than six months.
Upon notification by a hotel occupant of his or her intent to reside at the premises on a long term basis, the owner shall not, through any action or inaction, prevent such occupant from becoming a permanent tenant. In addition, no owner shall compel any person to rent as a hotel occupant, or require a hotel occupant upon registration to represent or agree that the housing accommodation will not be used as a principle residence, or will be used for commercial or professional purposes when in fact the housing accommodation is to be used solely for residential purposes.