It’s no secret that rent in New York City is expensive compared to other parts of the country. That’s why it’s always jaw-dropping to hear a story of someone paying much less than market-rate rent here. Remember how Carrie Bradshaw only paid $700 for her iconic Upper East Side pad in “Sex And The City”? That amount was still considered cheap in the late 1990s! The reason? Her place was probably a rent-stabilized apartment. Unfortunately, those highly coveted, affordable units seem like a distant dream. But they do exist. Is your NYC apartment rent-stabilized? Here’s how to find out.

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    How Many Rent-Stabilized Units Are in NYC?

    A New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey dating back to 2017, revealed there are close to 1 million rent-stabilized units in NYC. At the time of this writing, StreetEasy offered 220 listings with the term “rent-stabilized” in the apartment description. Here are tips for how to find a rent-stabilized apartment.

    Benefits of a Rent-Stabilized Apartment

    There are many reasons to find out if your NYC apartment is rent-stabilized in addition to affordability:

    • Landlords can only increase the rent by a percentage determined by the Rent Guidelines Board.
    • Rent is not dependent on your income level, apartment size, or the number of residents.
    • Landlords must renew leases every year, increasing housing security for rent-stabilized tenants. 
    • Tenants in rent-stabilized apartments can pass on the unit to family members in some cases.

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    How To Find Out if Your Apartment Is Rent-Stabilized

    Generally speaking, an NYC apartment is rent-stabilized if it is in a building that contains six or more units, was built before 1974, and isn’t a co-op or condo. However, it’s important to remember that prior to the 2019 legislation, units would fall out of rent stabilization once they hit a certain rent threshold. So, to find out if your unit is rent-stabilized, contact NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) via phone or web portal and request a rent history.

    Reviewing your rent history is a great way to find out if your apartment is rent-stabilized, but it also offers other benefits. For example, a rent history will help you find out if your landlord is charging you more than your apartment’s legal rent if it is stabilized, or if they were granted a rent increase for a Major Capital Improvement (MCI) or Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI), that they did not actually conduct to destabilize a unit. Another tool you can use is the Rent Guidelines Board’s list of rent-stabilized buildings in New York City. Buildings are organized by borough and zip code, and the documents can be downloaded and searched by keyword, address, etc.

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    Are New Rent-Stabilized Apartments Being Built?

    The short answer is “yes.”

    “Changes to the inventory of rent-stabilized apartments are published every year by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board,” according to Sam Himmelstein, a tenants’ rights lawyer with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph. About 10,000 rent-stabilized units were created in 2020 due to the 421-a program, which in simple terms is a real estate tax exemption for new construction. This program defers tax payments for developers that include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in a building. (A common split is 80/20, with affordable apartments in the minority. Abatements range in length — 10, 15, 20 years, etc. — and generally, the rent-stabilized status remains, even after those abatements expire.)

    In addition, a small number of stabilized units are created due to the J-51 program, which is similar to 421-a but applies to buildings that have been renovated, as opposed to newly constructed. Still more rent-stabilized apartments are created when loft spaces are converted to contain multiple units, or when apartments leave the Mitchell-Lama program, a city- and state-run program for moderate and middle-income families. 

    How to Find a Rent-Stabilized Apartment in NYC 

    So, how do you find a rent-stabilized apartment in NYC? 

    “Renters can apply to win affordable apartments, which are mostly rent-stabilized, through the NYC housing lottery’s website, Housing Connect,” says Adjina Dekidjiev, a broker for Warburg Realty. Note that applicants must meet income requirements (these are capped) and that the application process requires significant documentation and often, time. 

    “You can also work with a real estate broker who can research them and might know about off-market apartments,” says Dekidjiev.