Lost Lease

Q. My family has been living in a rent controlled apartment since around 1968.  My grandmother, who passed away, was the original tenant.  Now my mother holds the lease.  The landlord is forcing stipulations on my family, claiming that the stipulations are in the lease agreement, but I am suspicious because he isn’t the original landlord.  We do not have a copy of the original lease to counter his claims.  Is there a way to find it?

A. If you don’t have a copy of a 46-year-old document, I doubt the current landlord has it either.  If the landlord thinks the lease has certain details in it, he needs to provide it.

“If the management company produces anything other than the original lease that was signed circa 1968, then the tenant should be very suspicious,” said Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, an affordable housing advocacy group.

Typically, rent-controlled tenants don’t have a lease anymore because tenancy is pursuant to state statutes.  Unlike other tenants who get an annual lease renewal, rent-controlled tenants have the legal right to live in their units, which is why they are the most protected tenants in the city.

It’s possible that the landlord might not even have it,” said David A. Kaminsky, a real estate lawyer. “These buildings have often changed hands, files have gone missing, sometimes records are destroyed in floods or files.”

So how do you obtain the lease?  You could reach out to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal to see if they have it in their records, which is possible, “but a long shot,” said Mr. Kaminsky.  But you’re not the one who needs the lease right now – the landlord needs it if he wants to enforce new rules.  “Unless he shows you the lease, he has no ability to enforce those clauses,” Mr. Kaminsky said.  “It doesn’t matter what other leases generally say.  It matters if there is an actual lease with that language in it.”

The New York Times Q&A orignally published in The New York Times on May 25, 2014.

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