Monday, October 15, 2012

Tell DHCR We Need Stronger Tenant Protection Regulations

Join us in signing onto a city-wide letter!

The NYS Housing and Community Renewal (HCR) agency has asked tenants and landlords to propose new regulations.   From Tenants & Neighbors and last year's Working Group on HCR Regulation: "HCR should change its regulatory policy and practice to prevent the further loss of irreplaceable housing resources and the displacement of low and moderate income people from their homes and communities.  

"Lax regulation and weak enforcement have made it possible for unscrupulous landlords to unlawfully deregulate tens of thousands of rent stabilized units, and inflate even rent stabilized rents to a level beyond the reach of many working families."

Tenants & Neighbors and the Working Group on HCR Regulation have crystallized what tenants need. Join all of us in responding together, or tell DHCR directly: RentRegulationComments@nyshcr.org.

Click here for T&N's memo "New Rules for Stronger Enforcement," click here for T&N organizer Sam Stein's testimony to HCR, click here for the testimony of Ezra Kautz of Make the Road, and see the main points below from the Working Group.)    Click here for the testimony of Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. 

Click on "read more" for the full changes tenants need. 

CHANGES WE WANT 
TO HCR'S  RULES AND REGULATIONS

For over a year, tenants and advocates have been advocating for specific amendments to the rules and regulations that we believe would curtail the rampant violation of the rent laws we believe to be occurring.

Some of the tenant movement’s key demands include:


Simplify getting the rent reduced.
  • Set clear guidelines for what requires a rent reduction.
  • Make more conditions the basis for reduction in service complaints and simplify the process for tenants.
  • Give landlords 30, not 45, days to respond to an overcharge or service reduction complaint.
  • Let tenants use all evidence, not just material from the previous 4 years. 
  • Require landlords to keep all relevant rental records - and provide those records to tenants who have filed a complaint.
  • In a building‐wide complaint, all tenants (not just those who signed on to the complaint) should receive a rent reduction.
  • While a rent reduction order is in effect, landlords should not be allowed to continue collecting MCI and IAI increases.
  • Actively discourage tenants from waiving their rights without counsel or judicial or agency review.
  • Ensure that one tenant’s choice to drop a complaint does not impact future tenants’ ability to file a charge with HCR for the same issue.
  • Make the base date rent  the rent listed in the most recent prior registration.
  • Before restoring rents to original levels, send an inspector to verify that the problem was actually fixed.

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Improve oversight of Major Capital Increase (MCI) rent increases:
  • Make MCI s temporary, not permanent. 
Do not grant an MCI 
  • for cosmetic improvements
  • for improvements made due to past negligence.
  • if any building they own has two or more  hazardous violations,  even if the landlord promises to fix them within a "reasonable amount of time"
  • if the landlord has harassed any tenant in any building
  • if a project could be funded through a government assistance program
  • for electrical submetering.
  • where energy savings would not only recoup the cost of the initial investments but also reduce operating costs.
  • if the owner is receiving J-51 benefits (a tax break) for the same work

HCR must verify:
  • For any item that is to be replaced before its useful life is up, owners should be required to submit proof that the item has been properly maintained.
  • All work is done by licensed contractors.
  • Inspect the work if MCIs account for a cumulative 10% increase in rent over two years. 

Tenants should participate, and those leaving Mitchell-Lama should not pay twice for the same improvement
  • It should be easier for tenants to participate in the MCI denial/approval process. and HCR should provide tenants access to all relevant documents.  
  • In buildings leaving Mitchell-Lama, an escrow account should be automatically created to pay for repairs and replacements that would otherwise be MCIs over the 5 years after the building has entered rent stabilization. Furthermore, any work mandated as a precondition to the building leaving Mitchell-Lama should not qualify for an MCI.
________

Tailor the Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) system:
  • Require that landlords submit the documentation necessary to substantiate all costs for any IAI that would increase rent by more than 20%.
  • Limit increases to reasonable‐ not actual‐ costs, by establishing cost guidelines for IAIs.
  • Require the use of licensed contractors with no connection to the owner or manager.
  • Deny increases for cosmetic improvements or work due to prior negligence.
________

Educate leaseholders and enforce registration:
  • Tenants signing a new lease should receive a rider with information about the rent stabilized status of their apartment, their rights as regulated tenants, and their landlord’s responsibilities under the law.
  • HCR should regularly communicate with tenants regarding rent registration, and should send a letter to tenants advising them of the registration process and providing the most recent registration their landlord has filed.
  • Establish strong and enforceable rent registration requirements  - including notice to tenants of amended and late registration, and permitting tenants to file objections to those registrations. 
  • HCR should refine and clarify the definitions of such terms as “legal regulated rent,” “base date,” and “primary residence.”


Extend all rights to tenants in buildings receiving the J‐51 tax abatement:

  • Declare that all J‐51 tenants are protected and entitled to all the rights of rent regulation.
  • Notify all tenants in buildings that have received J‐51 benefits of the Roberts ruling, and immediately re-regulate those units, issue new leases, and lower the rent to its legal regulated rent. In addition, landlords should be made to refund the money that they have overcharged tenants.
  • Collaborate with the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to create a searchable database which includes information about J‐51 apartments and appropriate MCI levels, and should take action to ensure that no tenant who lives in a building that is receiving a J‐51 benefit is being overcharged for a MCI increase.



________


Protect the rights of remaining family members:

  • Clarify that apartment succession is available to family members based on co‐occupancy, regardless of whether the tenant originally named on the lease formally surrendered their tenancy rights to the landlord.
________

Better Protect Tenants Even Without Their Complaints
  • to stop ongoing rent overcharges to tenants; 
  • to prevent the transformation of illegal rents into legal ones due to the 4 year rule; and 
  • to prevent the unlawful deregulation of rent stabilized units. 
So HCR should:
  • Investigate an entire building or landlord's portfolio with confirmed rent overcharges or where a landlord fails to file (or retroactively files) rent registrations.
  • Program HCR's database to automatically detect illegal rent increases or failures to register rents that will trigger an investigation without a tenant complaint. 
  • Freeze the rent and impose maximum penalties whenever landlords do not file rent registrations.
________

Roll back key provisions of the 2000 and 2005 code revisions to protect tenants:
  • Lease renewals: The  landlord should provide a lease renewal notice 150 days in advance, not 120. 
  • Landlords should be able to obtain only one Rent Guidelines Board adjustment per year, even if more than one lease is signed per year.
  • Re-regulate unlawfully deregulated apartments
  • Re-regulate and protect current and future tenants in buildings that have been used as illegal hotels.