Tenants are being subjected to controversial 'nonrent fees'

Imagine you recently moved in to a new apartment on your own. It's your first time living by yourself, and you really like the place. Over the next few months, you get accustomed to the layout and your expenses begin to stabilize. Paying rent, utilities and other bills becomes routine.

One day, your landlord stops by, just to check in on a previous issue the place was having. The landlord brings a camera to document the problem; but as he goes through the apartment, he takes photos of other things. He snaps a shot of an air purifier you are using; he takes a picture of your air conditioning unit; and he notices you have a lava lamp running. Once he is done, he leaves -- and you think nothing of it.

Then when the next month rolls around, you get a letter from your landlord that details numerous fees he is charging you. The air purifier, AC unit and lava lamp now cost $30 a month to run.

Many New York renters have been dealing with this recently, as landlords now have the ability to charge "nonrent fees" to tenants. It's a new kind of landlord-tenant dispute that has a couple of obvious issues at the heart of it. The first is that some of these fees are charged in relation to equipment that may not be in use year-round (such as the AC unit); and even if the equipment is always in use, the tenant pays the electric bill.

Another major problem here is that these nonrenter fees are being applied at rent-stabilized apartments -- and thus the fees are being applied with the intent of getting long-standing tenants (who likely have lower rents) to move out and bring in a newer, higher-paying tenant.

A new report is set to come out in the coming days regarding landlords and their use (or misuse) of nonrent fees. Some tenants may have the ability to appeal these fees and recoup some of their finances.

Source: New York Times, "Nonrent Fees for Bronx Tenants Are Focus of Advocates' Report," Winnie Hu, Sept. 13, 2013