Ask Margaret

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:06

Dear Margaret,

How do I get an illegal business operating out of a rent-stabilized apartment evicted? The business (no one lives there) is very successful ? supplying headsets for the deaf to Broadway theatres. One of the issues is cleanliness, but the big one is that a rent stabilized flat is not lived in. The landlord should not be permitted to make that a market rate flat when the business is exposed.

- Ticked Off Tenant

I'd like to think that your question belies a concern for injustice. It's true; a commercial business shouldn't be taking up precious rent-stabilized real estate when there's so little to go around. It's not, strictly speaking, fair.

But New York is a city bursting with unfairness, where billionaires pass by homeless people as a matter of course, and even those of us in between are constantly reminded that we could be more successful, richer, inhabiting a bigger newer apartment.

We all have to navigate injustices large and small, daily, and pointing out that someone is wrongly getting an unfair advantage is practically our citywide pastime. The real question, though, is what do you actually hope to accomplish?

Assuming that this oddly unique business is indeed flying under the radar of the landlord and management company, you could alert them of the illegally-used apartment with an anonymous letter and be done with it. Chances are, though, they already know and just don't care. But for the sake of argument, let's pretend that they are oblivious.

Let's say that your letter does the trick and the company gets booted out. As a result, they have to find a more expensive storefront and, to cut costs accordingly, lay off their lowest ranking employee or contractor. Would you feel justified then? Is that the epitome of a fair outcome?

It's doubtful you'd even know the full impact of this business getting evicted, but it's worth thinking through what you could live with.

At the same time, you write that you don't want the apartment to get converted into a market-rate one once the nefarious arts-loving disability-assisting company gets tossed into the streets. While this is an admirable hope ? that a deserving person or family who truly needs the leg-up can move into the rent-controlled apartment ? it is, you must realize, unrealistic at best. Under our current state regulations, it is shockingly easy for landlords to make enough superficial improvements to most any rent-controlled apartment to bring it out of regulation and into the glorious land of market rates. The likelihood that your landlord would go through the trouble of evicting the business and then NOT bother to make enough improvements to fetch market rate for the unit is about as small as the size of the earpieces this company presumably produces to aid the hearing-impaired.

In the end, it doesn't seem that much good could come of you making a move to oust this business. You note that cleanliness is your main complaint with them, but I wonder if you wouldn't be happier ? and have better karma ? if instead of trying to take them to housing court, you knocked on their door one day with a batch of cookies, or brown-butter sea salt rice krispies treats, or whatever culinary treat you fancy. Introduce yourself as a Friendly Neighbor, not a Legal Threat, and ask if you might speak with them about whatever cleaning habits are causing you agita. Perhaps they let trash pile up in the hallway, or don't sweep outside their door, or let their Chinese food containers fester? (I am having a hard time imagining what they could be doing that has a negative impact on your home life ? if they're hosting a garbage carnival for rats that's one thing, but I am assuming it's all at a fixable level.) You can always give them a wink and a nudge to let them know that you're aware of their unusual arrangement but are only interested in fostering a more hospitable environment for everyone in the building.

That approach could fail, and things could get worse, to the point where you find yourself involved with the legalities of an eviction. But just because you wouldn't be on the receiving end of such a notice doesn't mean you want to come within spitting distance of that process. Eviction is a nasty, drawn-out, onerous, soul-sapping thing. Think very carefully before you wade into those waters.

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