PLAINTIFFS-TENANTS DID NOT SHOW DEFENDANT LANDLORD ENGAGED IN A FRAUDULANT SCHEME TO DEREGULATE; THEREFORE THE DEFAULT FORMULA TO SET THE BASE DATE RENT PURSUANT TO THE RENT STABILIZATION CODE SHOULD NOT BE USED (CT APP).
The Court of Appeals, reversing the Appellate Division, determined that the default formula for determining the plaintiffs-tenants’ legal regulated rent pursuant to the Rent Stabilization Code should not be used because there was no evidence of a fraudulent scheme to deregulate. Rather defendants’ deregulation was based upon a misinterpretation of the law:
Matter of Regina Metro. Co., LLC v New York State Div. of Hous. and Community Renewal was decided after Supreme Court granted plaintiffs’ motion (35 NY3d 332 ). There, this Court made clear that, under the pre-Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 law applicable here, “review of rental history outside the four-year lookback period [i]s permitted only in the limited category of cases where the tenant produced evidence of a fraudulent scheme to deregulate and, even then, solely to ascertain whether fraud occurred—not to furnish evidence for calculation of the base date rent or permit recovery for years of overcharges barred by the statute of limitations” … . In fraud cases, because the reliability of the base date rent has been tainted, “this Court sanctioned use of the default formula to set the base date rent” … . Regina also held that “deregulation of [ ] apartments during receipt of J-51 benefits was not based on a fraudulent misstatement of fact but on a misinterpretation of the law [and so] a finding of willfulness is generally not applicable to cases arising in the aftermath of Roberts [and] [b]ecause conduct cannot be fraudulent without being willful, it follows that the fraud exception to the lookback rule is generally inapplicable to Roberts overcharge claims” … .
Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden on summary judgment. Defendants’ deregulation of the apartments was based on this same “misinterpretation of the law” involved in Regina and therefore that conduct did not constitute fraud … . Defendants’ subsequent re-registering of the apartments occurred after the four-year lookback period, and plaintiffs have failed to offer evidence that it somehow affected the reliability of the actual rent plaintiffs paid on the base date. Casey v Whitehouse Estates, Inc., 2023 NY Slip Op 01351, CtApp 3-16-23
Practice Point: In order to use the default formula pursuant to the Rent Stabilization Code, there must have been a fraudulent scheme to deregulate on the part of the landlord. Here there was no evidence of a fraudulent scheme as opposed to a misinterpretation of the law.
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