Citing a loophole in local law, Zachary Bennett and Karen Nourse have lived rent free with their two children in a $4,754-a-month apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan for six years. They claim that because the building does not have a residential certificate of occupancy, they should not have to pay for living there.
 
According to documents filed in a lawsuit against the couple, the landlord claims that they owe more than $410,000 in unpaid rent and electricity bills. At one time, there were other residential households in the building, but the nine-storey building is occupied otherwise by businesses now.
 
 
The so-called "Loft Law" affords protections to people living in commercial and factory buildings that have failed to get a required residential certificate of occupancy. Margaret Sandercock, an attorney who is representing the couple said that the building where they live does not comply with the Loft Law. Sandercock told the New York Post,  “The owner is not entitled to collect rent and my clients are not required to pay rent.”
 
Attorney Harry Shapiro is representing the landlord. He told The Post that the pair should pay what they owe because the Loft Law, he said, applies only to building with three residential tenants or more. 
 
With the completion of the High Line -- a linear park that is built along an unused railroad right-of-way -- rents in the Chelsea district have risen dramatically since 2009. The formerly industrial area has now become an international destination. Rents in the district are now 10 times the average increase for Manhattan as a whole. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in a building without a doorman in November 2016 was $4,950.
 


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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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