A cab driver elicited fits of rent-related envy this week after it was revealed he used a little-known SRO law to get a rent-stabilized $226/month room in Chelsea—FOR LIFE. And though it seems like he managed to trap a World Series-winning Mets team in his dreamcatcher, it turns out it's not impossible to get yourself a super-cheap rent-stabilized room forever, provided you do a little research, get a great attorney, and prepare to spend half of that forever fighting your new landlords in housing court. But hey, rent is rent!
We spoke with housing attorney Janet Kalson, who told us that there is indeed a little-known law that says if you request a lease in a hotel or SRO that falls within certain parameters, management has to make you a rent-stabilized tenant indefinitely. Not that you can just waltz into the Standard High Line and score a $226-a-month suite—the hotel has to have been constructed before July 1st, 1969, and could not have cost more than $350-a-month or $88-per-week on May 31st, 1968. Here's the whole thing:
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.
While Kalson confirmed that "anyone could do it," it's not a casual commitment. First, you'd have to make an educated guess as to what the hotel’s exact rates were on that fateful day in May of 1968. Next, you'd have to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the SRO law (and not all are!) Then, you rent a room and request a lease (make the request in writing) the next day, if you so desire. After that, shit'll pretty much hit the fan.
"The law exists and it's not going off the books, but the reality is that the tenant's going to have to have a lawyer to fight for them. It's a very hard thing for an individual to navigate on their own," Kalson said, noting that police would often need to get involved once a lease was requested.
"I would never have my clients do this on a Friday because all kinds of hell would break loose," Kalson added. "It could get pretty nasty and pretty ugly, and I would want to be around to assert the client’s rights when and if the hotel tried to illegally evict or harass my client."
Indeed, when aforementioned cabby Hamidou Guira went to court, he faced quite a battle—according to the New York Law Journal, Guira was illegally evicted from the Chelsea High Line Hotel in July, had his possessions confiscated, and spent a lot of time fighting for his room in court. Thankfully that battle resulted in a happy ending, though Guira told the Post he'll only stick with his cheap digs "if all the conditions are right,"—a hostel room can only suffice for so long, even for $226-a-month.