Q: I didn’t know that the rent-stabilized building where I live had been sold until I received a text message from an unknown number telling me to pay my rent via Venmo or Zelle. Moments later, a stranger knocked at my door and introduced himself as a representative of the new owner. He refused to disclose the owner’s identity and told me I could mail my check to a post office box if I didn’t want to pay rent digitally. I was left feeling stunned, vulnerable and betrayed by the previous landlord. Was there no obligation to inform tenants that the building had been sold, and to verify the new landlord’s identity on our behalf? Shouldn’t we have received notice?
A: Do not send your rent check to a random post office box or an anonymous Venmo account or to anyone who cannot prove that they represent your new landlord.
“I would never send anyone money that I don’t know, if I don’t have evidence that they’re actually entitled to the money,” said Bradley S. Silverbush, a Manhattan lawyer who represents landlords. If the request is fraudulent, “you’re never going to get that back, OK?”
As a matter of courtesy, your landlord should have told you that the building sold, and provided you with information about the new management. The new owner, however, must register the building with both the city and the state, disclosing the names and business addresses of the person authorized to manage it, as well as the owner or whoever is authorized to act on the owner’s behalf. You should be able to find this information on the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development website, as well as on state records, since it’s a rent-stabilized building. Financial data about the sale should be available on the Automated City Register Information System.
But it’s not your job or responsibility to hunt down this information. You are entitled to know that you are paying rent to the correct entity, and whom you should contact with any problems with your apartment. Insist that the person who contacted you prove that they represent the owner. Withhold rent until you are shown sufficient documentation to prove that you are indeed paying your landlord.
Talk to your neighbors, too. Form a tenants’ association, if one doesn’t already exist. “If you’re faced with this, your neighbors are also faced with it,” said Andrew Scherer, a professor at New York Law School and the co-director of the Housing Justice Leadership Institute. “Act together on something like this. There is clearly safety in numbers.”
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