For the second time in New York’s history, tenants living illegally in commercial lofts will be able to apply for the full rights and protections afforded to all residential renters. When Article 7-C of the New York Multiple Dwelling Law was first passed in 1982, many of the residential tenants that had moved into formerly industrial buildings throughout lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn were able to legitimize their occupancies. Indeed, Article 7-C, which has come to be known simply as the 1982 Loft Law, was a seminal piece of legislation protecting the rights of middle-income tenants. In 2009, the Loft Law Amendment was passed in the state legislature, guaranteeing the same protections to those loft tenants who can prove occupancy in a building during 12 consecutive months of 2008 and 2009. There are numerous incentives for applying, both for landlords and tenants — most notably, landlords can legalize their operation, and tenants protected from capricious rent increases.

But qualifying for the law is tricky, and the process daunting to all but the savviest bureaucracy-surfers; unlike the 1982 law, the 2009 amendment imposes a deadline of March 11, 2014 on all applicants.

One group, NYC Loft Tenants, is seeking to demystify the process by maintaining an informal sort of mutual-aid group to assist those seeking protection under the law. For the most part, landlords are cooperative when tenants seek to certify the building under the Loft Law — it’s a kind of legal amnesty that benefits the landlord in nearly all cases. But given the rate at which real estate prices in some neighborhoods have shot skyward, some landlords may be incentivized to offer buyouts to tenants, freeing up the real estate for sale or renovation rather than accepting the possible burden of leaseholding tenants. Gordon Whitehull, a programmer in Brooklyn and an organizer of the NYC Loft Tenants, told Hyperallergic that he has heard of a “fair amount of buyouts,” but this is the exception rather than the rule: “a legalized building is worth more, it raises the value of the property considerably in industrial zoned areas.”

“The loft law is out to remedy people living in subsdantard or dangerous housing,” adds Chuck Delaney, who has since 1982 served as Tenants’ Representative on the Loft Board, an entity created by the original legislation to arbitrate its implementation. Delaney further expressed the urgency of getting the word out ahead of the 2009 amendment’s deadline. “If March 11 comes and goes and some people haven’t registered — if the city lets them sit there, you have people living with inadequate fire safety protection. Which is screwed up, in my opinion … There was no deadline under the original loft law, it was added this time at the behest of the city.”

NYC Loft Tenants maintains a website with further information about qualifying for the Loft Law, and it meets on the first and third Monday of every month at the Brooklyn Rod and Gun Club (59 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn).

Original image via Flickr user David Boyle (aka @beglendc)

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.