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In The Times: On New Kitchen Counters

February 06, 2014

Posted on Feb 10, 2014 1:00pm EST by Newman Ferrara LLP

Real Estate Q & A

By Ronda Kaysen

The New York Times

Published: February 6, 2014

Counter Situation

Q.When I moved into my rent-controlled apartment nearly 50 years ago, I paid for kitchen upgrades. Today the Formica counter, which I paid for, is worn and discolored. The landlord's agent won't allow me to replace it without raising my rent. Is that how the law reads?

Upper West Side, Manhattan

A. After 50 years, I can only imagine how worn these Formica countertops look. It certainly seems reasonable to want a fresh look. But as long as the countertops aren't broken or defective, the landlord isn't required to replace them, according to Lucas A. Ferrara, a real estate lawyer.

New countertops would be considered an apartment improvement, which means the landlord can raise your monthly rent by 1/60th or 1/40th of the cost, depending on the size of your building. So if the new counters and the installation totaled $2,000, the landlord could raise your rent by as much as $50 a month. The rent increase is permanent, long after that $2,000 is paid off and those new counters have lost their luster. (The website for the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal has information on renter's rights.)

Tempting as it might be, resist the urge to do the work yourself. You risk eviction if your lease prohibits you from making modifications without written consent. And even if you are allowed to do the work, it opens you up to serious liability if anything goes wrong. Ask the landlord to give you an estimate for how much the work will cost. Once you have a firm number, then you can decide if the rent increase is worth the joy of new Formica.

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