How to Organize, Save Money, Deal with Landlords and Skepticism

Now that you’ve read “Do I Qualify?“, reviewed the “Pros and Cons” and “How to Apply” you know you need at least 3 units to apply but more importantly you’ll want the support of your neighbors to save money and convince the landlord to take you seriously. (see more about landlords below)

Talking to your neighbors about the Loft Law can seem like a daunting task. Here are some suggestions from other loft buildings about how to begin and keep the momentum going. Don’t worry about doing everything listed here, just start at the top and see how things go. We’re here to help. Download this helpful How-To guide from NAG.

  1. Approach your neighbors and get the conversation started:
    • Sometimes it’s easiest to start with a familiar face. Try your next door neighbor or someone you are already on friendly terms with. Just knock on their door or leave a note asking for a few minutes.
    • You might want to start the conversation with a question, “Have you heard about the Loft Law?”. Tell them why you’re thinking about it and why you think it’s a good idea for your building. (see about landlords below)
    • Listen to their reaction: if they are open ask them if they can suggest other neighbors who might be interested. If they seem hesitant ask them if they’d be interested in learning more. (see about skepticism below).
    • Don’t get discouraged if people are not immediately responsive. Sometimes people need time to think about big steps like this. If they didn’t slam the door in your face try approaching them again with some more information after a few days. Keep it casual and friendly.
  2. Organize a tenant’s meeting and get help from the NYCLT:
    • Consider inviting your interested neighbors to an information gathering meeting at your loft. Contact the NYCLT, we can try to find an experienced volunteer to attend your meeting to help answer questions.
    • Pass around a sign up sheet: now is the time to start gathering emails. We encourage tenants to Create a Google Group (you’ll need to create a login if you don’t use gmail) for their building, this is a great way to share and track information with lots of people. Start inviting people within a few days of the meeting. As you move further along you’ll want to keep track of who hasn’t joined and follow up with them – ultimately it’s best to have all interested units in communication.
    • Before people leave the meeting, decide what the next step is and who will do what – and when. Encourage people to speak with any neighbors who haven’t been contacted yet. Suggest a date for the next meeting.
    • Follow up with neighbors via email so they have things in writing. Sometimes it helps to ask someone to take notes during the meeting or have an outline of what you’d like to discuss ready before the meeting.
    • Share information. If you live in a large building it can help to make information accessible to everyone involved. Some buildings use Google Docs to track and share information. You can control the privacy, editing and share settings. Sharing information can empower people to share responsibility.
  3. Consider Interviewing lawyers:
    • NYCLT can provide a list of lawyers or you can google for ideas.
    • Ask the lawyer if they will come to your next tenant’s meeting to be interviewed by the tenants (they will probably say yes). Be courteous: don’t invite more than one lawyer at a time!
    • During the interview find out what their retainer fee is, their experience with other buildings (have they ever dealt with your landlord in court?) and what vulnerabilities your application may face.
    • If you don’t feel comfortable with one lawyer, try another. You’ll probably be working together a long time. 
  4. Consider forming a Tenant’s Association and Save Money:
    • If multiple units are applying for coverage (at least three!) you will save money by sharing expenses, the more neighbors the cheaper for everyone! This can be a powerful motivator for recruiting more neighbors.
    • A Tenant’s Association (often named after the common building address) can collect payments from tenants for agreed upon services (like lawyers, application fees, architects, etc). To do this you will need to be registered as an unincorporated association and get a registered tax number with the IRS. Start by calling the IRS at (800) 829-4933, or apply online, and asking for an EIN number for your unincorporated association. Then you can open a joint checking account (with multiple signatures) for deposits and payments.
    • Consider Roles and Responsibilities: 
      • A bank may require signees have a “title”, something like: secretary or treasurer might be appropriate. You might want to discuss this with your neighbors in advance. Who will be responsible for this account?
      • You don’t have to do everything! Some people are good at organizing information, some people like to go to meetings, and some people want to help but can’t do more than send checks to the lawyer. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors or tell them about what needs to be done, they might be willing but don’t know what to do.
    • Consider By-laws:
      • if your building has a LOT of units your tenant’s association might want to consider having by-laws. By-laws are governing rules. They usually talk about things like how many tenants are needed to make a decision for the building, what’s a majority. what fees are due and when, what the lawyer can and can not be paid for (for instance if one unit needs to go to Housing Court that unit might pay separately), how long does someone keep a “title”, etc…
  5. Keep Learning More and Empower yourselves:

About Landlords:

Some tenants spoke with their landlords early on and were able to convince them that applying for the Loft Law was in their best interest too (read more about “Ultimately…” below). These buildings were able to work together. If your landlord says they will apply we recommend tenants remain involved with the process: you should get a copy of the completed application, participate in any OATH conferences and in the Narrative Statement Process.

Some tenants feel it’s best to deal with their landlord as little as possible. You can begin the application procedure and let your lawyer do the talking. Even with lawyers tenants can choose to make this a respectful experience. Join the NYCLT Google Group for support. Lots of tenants have applied without discussing this first with their landlord and were able to continue to live in harmony.

You will find at least one or two early horror stories on the web about landlords reacting badly. Most loft landlords have either heard about the Loft Law by now or will be soon, most will simply see this as a part of being in the loft live/work business (read more about “Ultimately…” below). If you’re concerned about your landlord’s reaction talk to your lawyer, learn out about Harassment and keep in touch with the NYCLT community for support.

Ultimately it is in your landlord’s best interest to apply whether they see it or not. The State of New York and the City of New York have established the Loft Law and the Loft Board to allow landlords of former industrial buildings to continue to rent to live/work tenants. Once the Loft Board application deadline passes on March 11, 2014, any illegal live/work lofts will not be eligible and at risk of eviction by the Department of Buildings; then the city can force landlords to remove kitchens and bathrooms and use the lofts as strictly commercial studios. So, if your landlord wants to continue to collect rent from you or anyone else like you – this is their chance to make it legitimate.

The hard truth is, if you have not yet applied and if your building does not have a Certificate of Occupancy, you are already at risk of eviction by the Department of Buildings or the Fire Department. The application brings a lot of long term benefits but the immediate benefit is protection from eviction for ilegal occupancy.

About Skepticism (from neighbors):

Maybe it’s because loft tenants are use to living illegally (consciously or not) but most tenants feel at least some hesitation when they first consider applying for Loft Law protection. Tenants often express concern about “upsetting their relationship” with their landlord, causing unnecessary expense for their landlord or just a reluctance to get involved with lawyers or the government.

If you try to force your neighbors by applying for them you’ll likely get a lot of resentment. We highly recommend you meet with your neighbors in person, ask if a volunteer from NYCLT can support you, and develop a positive relationship with your neighbors. Read “Ultimately…” above.

Finally, this is not about tenants versus landlords, this is about a process put forth by the state to make your building legal. Your city is giving you the chance to have a rent stabilized loft. We think that’s pretty awesome, don’t you? We bet some of your neighbors will agree if someone would just tell them…