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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Renovating a Kitchen as a Renter

The New York Times Real Estate Section runs a reader Q&A:

Q. We live in a rent-stabilized apartment. Many years ago, at our own expense, we upgraded our kitchen, installing counters, tiling and new appliances. We also moved the kitchen sink about two feet. No plumbing was altered other than the visible line leading to the sink. The superintendent was aware of the work and, in fact, assisted at one point. The kitchen now is markedly superior to its former self and will be an asset to the landlord at some point in the future. But my question is: Can our lease be terminated for work done so long ago?Morningside Heights, Manhattan

A. If you violate the terms of your lease, there is a six-year statute of limitations on any claims a landlord could make against you. So if the work was done more than six years ago, you can probably exhale now.Continue reading the main storyRelated Coverage    Ask Real Estate: More Articles in the SeriesBut before you pop open the champagne in your fancy kitchen, think hard about the plumbing work you did, because your case might be a glaring exception to that rule. If any of the work violated city building codes, you could be in a precarious position. If you did not get proper permits for the plumbing work, for example, that could constitute a violation of the law, and there is no statute of limitations when it comes to building code violations as a breach of the lease.

“Basically, the violation renews every single day,” said Michael P. Kozek, a lawyer who represents tenants.

Even if the landlord knew about the work for years, a judge would be reluctant to waive a claim against you if the work is illegal. If the landlord decides one day to evict you over the kitchen, you could agree to put the kitchen back to its original state and keep your apartment. But that would not be an easy task to accomplish, because it would probably be hard to recreate an antiquated, deteriorating kitchen.

Some courts have allowed tenants to legalize the work already done by obtaining a permit and performing any necessary work to correct the violation, provided the work does not constitute a substantial injury to the apartment or pose a risk of harm to neighboring tenants.

“I would sit tight for now,” Mr. Kozek said. “If the landlord becomes aware of it, then immediately contact a lawyer to see if a resolution can be reached.”

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