SROs or single room occupancies have a wide range of value in Harlem. SROs are typically set up as rooming houses where there might be several rooms per floor with a common bathroom or kitchen. The most valuable SRO will have a certificate of no harassment and be delivered vacant. The least valuable will have non-paying tenants and be delivered without the CONH. What is a CONH and why would having it add at least $100k to the value of your SRO?
A CONH is granted after an investigation or look back by NYC’s Housing Preservation and Development of approximately 3 years. They are looking at your history of tenants to see if any tenants were forced out or harassed. Some of the questions on the application ask if you have had a discontinuation of service like heat, hot water or electricity, a potential sign that the tenants might have left due to poor living conditions. It takes approximately 7 months according to reps at HPD to get a CONH assuming the application is in order. You can have an experienced lawyer do this for you and they will charge $3k-$5k depending on how complicated the case is. So if you have some advance notice you might want to apply for this prior to putting your house on the market. If you are a DIY’er then you can fill in the application yourself and can visit the HPD during the week between 9-11am with your walk in questions. Make sure your property is registered with HPD. The CONH is valuable because the purchaser of your property will not be granted building permits to alter the SRO without a CONH. Also, while it may be difficult for you to come up with the names of all the tenants who lived in the property, it is impossible for the buyer so in some cases they may even just decide to sit on the house for 3 years before applying for the CONH. For that, they will expect a severe discount.
As you are arranging your future plans to sell, you will want to maintain an excellent relationship with your tenants so they vouch for you if contacted by the City. Also, if they are not a rent stabilized tenant then you might not want to renew their lease which will give you the option to ask them to vacate with a 30 day notice. If you can get by without the income, vacating the house just prior to listing will make it easier to show and sell, but certainly ethically empty out the house prior to closing. If the tenants are rent stabilized then you may need to offer them a buyout or leave that up to the next purchaser. If you must deliver the house occupied make sure that your tenants are current. A building full of non-paying tenants will be only taken on by investors if the price is very low.
As this sale is a complicated one, you will need a team to insure the most lucrative sale including an experienced and knowledgeable real estate broker, a real estate attorney plus perhaps even an architect or expediter. Even though it may seems like a burdensome effort, it will be worth it in the end especially if you know that you have lead time. If you have even only a few months before you will sell, it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead and get a CONH and get the house vacant for closing.
The Author- Brian Silvestry , a licensed real estate broker, has been selling SROs and Harlem townhouses for more than 12 years and has helped owners to apply and obtain the certificate of no harassment.