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A New York City developer and landlord is being sued for allegedly tricking an elderly woman into signing an agreement to vacate her rent controlled apartment in the coveted Upper West Side neighborhood. The former resident's lawsuit claims that when she signed the agreement to vacate, she believed that all she was signing was a receipt to prove that she received documents about renovations that were planned for the building. Unfortunately, the documents stated that she would move out while renovations were being done.
Surprisingly, after she signed the documents, the landlord cut off heat to her unit, which ended up causing her medical problems. Additionally, while the documents she did sign stated the renovations would only last nine months, it has now been over a year, and it does not look likely that she will be able to move back home before the holidays. From the current reports, it is unclear whether the resident has been permanently or just temporarily ousted from her home.
Don't Allow a Rush to Stop You From Reading What You Sign
This whole scenario could have been avoided if the resident had just read what she was signing. While this may sound like basic, common sense advice (and it is), unread contracts get signed every single day. Generally, if you are ever being rushed to sign something, even if it seems unimportant, it is probably a good idea to take the time to read what you are signing.
Additionally, just in general, during contract negotiation, if one party is trying to rush you into signing an agreement, they are probably going to be more willing to modify the agreement in your favor.
Know Your Rights as a Renter
If you are a renter, you should take the time to know your specific rights as a renter in your specific city. Some places, like New York City, San Francisco, and many other cities, have very specific and strict rent control laws. However, those laws may not apply in all situations, such as when you sign a new agreement to vacate.
Seek Legal Advice and Help
Don't sign anything you don't understand. If your landlord is asking you to sign a document, and you are not sure what it means, seek legal help. In many cities, there are free drop in legal clinics that you can attend. Additionally, if your city has a rent board, tenants' union, or some other housing authority, you may be able to reach out to them for assistance.
If your landlord is asking you to sign something about moving out, even temporarily, and you are unsure about your rights, contact an experienced landlord tenant attorney for help.