NYC Tenants Band Together To Buy Building After Landlord Tries To Hike Rent

Image of apartment building in the Bronx
Google Maps | Google

If you've ever had a landlord who tries to unreasonably hike your rent, you may have fantasized about buying out the owner completely. It would be perfectly understandable to want to turn the tables.

So, good news for those of us who do dream of that reversal of fortunes: A group of tenants in New York turned this fantasy into a reality after buying a rent-controlled building that the owner was trying to deregulate.

It all went down at 700 East 134th Street.

Map showing location of apartment building in the Bronx
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The 21-unit apartment building in the South Bronx had been rent-stabilized for years. More recently, the landlord fought to deregulate the building, which would bump rents up by as much as $500 and displace residents.

Tenants banded together.

Image of an apartment building in the Bronx
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The building was purchased by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), a nonprofit.

The deal, while simple on paper, was the end result of years of tireless work on the part of the people who lived in the building.

The issue goes back to 2017.

For rent sign
Unsplash | Aaron Sousa

In 2017, a new landlord announced that the building would be deregulated, removing all rent controls and bumping rent up by $500 per unit.

It was around this time that the residents started to organize.

They did their research.

Stacks of paperwork
Unsplash | Wesley Tingey

Residents fought hard to maintain the building's regulated status. Because of the ongoing legal battle, the building's owner couldn't raise rents and couldn't sell the building, which gave the tenants some leverage in their negotiations.

The tenants were eventually able to purchase the building.

While the landlord resisted selling the building, it's likely that the pandemic caused his tone to soften.

"He was just put in a really difficult spot," said tenant Joshua Flores.

Nevertheless, residents say they faced considerable difficulties purchasing the building.

"We stayed organized, we stayed unified and we fought him, he did not expect that,” resident Courtland Hankins said. “He definitely used some things to try to divide us."

The final price tag was $2.6 million.

Sold sign
Unsplash | Robert Linder

By New York standards, the building was a bargain. The asking price in 2017 was north of $4 million.

The money came not just from tenants, but also from a private family foundation that wishes to remain anonymous.

The building won't need significant upgrades.

Worker doing maintenance
Unsplash | Emmanuel Ikwuegbu

It isn't a new building, but thanks to a 2005 renovation and decent maintenance, it's unlikely to require anything significant beyond a new boiler and some roof repair, according to UHAB project associate Arielle Hersh.

Residents can freely move out.

Person signing a contract
Unsplash | Scott Graham

The terms of the agreement state that anyone who's bought in to the building and wants out will be able to do so. They'll simply be bought out of their share. It functions almost like a condo association.

What do you think?

Image of apartment building in the Bronx
Google Maps | Google

It's rare to see the little guy stand up to the big guy and score a win, but that's exactly what's happened in the Bronx.

Do you think we'll see more stories of renters banding together to fight back against greedy landlords? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

h/t: Next City