I believe that the couple should have to pay the landlord back for their rent if they have simply not paid. If however, there is more to the story and the landlord has not been charging them, for example, or there has been another agreement with the landlord then that should stand.
And is now paying the price. According to my reading of the article; the landlord tried to break the law to get more money by renting out an illegal apartment, and got stuck holding the financial burden instead of the family this time.
However in the very same law the tenants are using as protection from eviction it claims that if the landlord is in the process of legalizing the apartments then he can collect rent.
Since he has chosen for 6 years to not legalize the apartment, nor does it mention any type, or attempt, of cooperation or other agreements outside of the original lease (if such exists then this needs reevaluated), then I would say the landlord is not entitled to the rent.
That does not mean that the situation should be allowed to continue however. Exploitation of a loophole (by anyone corporate or individual) should not be encouraged, and those methods should be blocked off when found instead of allowed indefinitely. I think a rework is in order that puts a time limit on such cases, and that in order to allow time to work towards a solution without outside intervention.
After which if no progress has been made then landlord would be forced to pay a fine and relocation expenses to a similar (or one within their means if their circumstances have changed for the worst) but legal apartment, and the tenant required to move. Then the illegal apartment is shut down and the landlord uses the space as intended, sets up legal apartments, or faces further penalties. If additional time is needed to work out the relocation then the tenant should pay a portion of the original rent (determined in part based on the condition of the location) for that time but this should again have a limited allowance.
No, at this point the couple should not have to pay the landlord the full amount of rent owed. It would be too much of a hardship. However, the landlord deserves some compensation. Therefore, they should come to an agreement. Perhaps the couple can pay half the rent that is owed.
I think that if any business mis-charges their customer then it is their own fault and the customer shouldn't be asked for extra cash. The same should apply to rent, if the landlord has messed up then it is their own fault. Honesty from the tenant would be nice in the perfect world but money is too valuable to most of us and the landlord should be accept he messed up.
No, the couple living rent-free in Manhattan for several years should not have to pay their landlord back. This couple has been able to live without paying rent for so long because their landlord has not kept up his end of the lease by performing necessary maintenance and repairs on their apartment.