February is RENTERS’ MONTH! I know it’s not quite February yet, but I’m jumping the gun because i’m excited.
As some of you know, a large part of why I do real estate and why I work with so many relocation clients is my own experience as an NYC renter. In 2012 my best friend and I were pretty obvious marks — we were 23 year olds with guarantors who had just moved to the city and clearly knew nothing about how the rental market worked. Because of this we basically got taken advantage of, signing a lease on an apartment that was unfinished without verifying how it would be remodeled, paying a higher fee than necessary, and even being lied to about our move-in date. We also didn’t understand that our agent had a relationship with the landlord (dual agency), and he wasn’t exactly up front about it.
Over the past six years I have found out that the apartment is rent stabilized, gone to housing court over unresolved leaks, questioned whether the rent is legal, looked at HP proceedings and rent reductions for diminished services, and filed a DHCR rent overcharge complaint. I’ve spoken to housing lawyers, pored through hundreds of pages of NYC.gov information, and read pretty much everything I could find about tenants’ rights, especially in rent stabilized apartments.
I am still in the midst of my DHCR complaint (sent in a 76 page answer last week) and will tread lightly rather than give too many details before it is resolved, but I want to share my multitudes of experience with you, because not everyone has time to go all “A Beautiful Mind” on housing law.
Today we are talking about the DHCR, my favorite agency that also, somehow, is like a co-op board. The lack of transparency is good, because it prevents intimidation by powerful landlords, but I essentially submit documents to a black hole, only to months later get a letter asking me for more information and showing the landlord’s response. But let’s back up and take it from the most basic:
What is the DHCR?
DHCR stands for Department of Homes and Community Renewal, and is the agency “responsible for the supervision, maintenance, and development of affordable low-and moderate-income housing in New York State.” They govern all protected rental properties in the city, which include Section 8, rent stabilized, and rent controlled apartments. They have a tenant protection unit, a Rent Info Hotline, and affordable housing lotteries. They are a government agency, so they are notoriously slow-moving and sometimes you can’t get the information you need, but their existence is essential in a city FILLED with slumlords who want the tax benefits of having protected-lease tenants but don’t want to do the legally required work on their end.
How do I know if my apartment is governed by DHCR?
Rent controlled apartments are a dying breed, and it is virtually impossible for you to be in one without your knowledge. You definitely know if your apartment is Section 8, because you had to apply for it specifically. But rent stabilization is very common and tenants may be in a rent stabilized lease without their knowledge. Legally, if you have a rent stabilized apartment you are required to receive a rent stabilization rider along with your original lease. I did not (shocker!). My lease does, however, say “rent stabilized” at the top, and yours should as well. But not all landlords follow the rules, so you may have to do a little digging! Does the following seem like it refers to your apartment?
You can also use this database to search and see whether your apartment is rent stabilized. If it is, you should follow the instructions below to get the rent history. This will tell you if there’s something fishy going on (like if the previous tenant paid 50% less than you currently pay). If so, you should definitely dig a little deeper to make sure the landlord did the required work in order to raise the rent.
What does rent stabilization mean?
I wrote about this before! Click the link here to read more details.
What does the DHCR do?
The DHCR develops and helps other developers create low-income housing, informs tenants of their rights and, along with HPD, helps enforce housing laws in the city. I will get more into HPD at a later date, but that is where you report violations in any rental building or apartment (or 311 reports them for you), whereas the DHCR is specifically for protected leases, and aside from dealing with very specific types of complaints (like a rent overcharge), it’s mostly just a resource, not an enforcement arm.
If you have ANY questions about your apartment, your lease, or your landlord, PLEASE please please give me a call. I don’t know everything, but my former housing lawyer can attest I know more about housing law and tenants’ rights than many legal professionals. This is my forte.
And if you have anything specific you’d like me to cover this month, just email me. Your wish is my command.