Real Estate Law
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If the building is listed as one of the buildings that is rent stabilized, then the landlord must abide by the rent stabilization code as far as any increases in the rent payment.
The following is a link to the statutes related to rent increases: http://www.tenant.net/Rent_Laws/rsc/rsc2522.html
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They could be mistaken or they could simply be trying to take advantage of the situation.
The following link discusses preferential rent and payment of rent higher than what is allowed. I believe this should answer your question.