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Rent control hearing

While there are exceptions to these general rules, your apartment is probably rent-controlled if your building was built before 1947, contains three or more apartments, and you or a family member moved in before July 1, 1971.

Your apartment is probably rent-stabilized if your building contains six or more apartments and 1) was built between 1947 and 1973; or 2) was built before 1947 and you moved in after June 30, 1971. Generally, rent controlled tenants have only one old, original lease or no lease; stabilized tenants have leases which they can renew every one or two years. Some apartments that meet the general criteria for rent regulation are exempt due to the rent level of the apartment and the timing of past vacancies. See "High Rent Vacant Units"

Apartments in buildings constructed after 1973 are not subject to regulation unless the owners received assistance under one of two city tax benefit programs, J-51 or 421-a, or certain other city or state loan programs. Stabilization protections for these apartments are based on when the tenant moved in, when the building was built or rehabilitated and specific clauses included in their leases. Special rules also apply to buildings owned by non-profit institutions such as hospitals or colleges. Certain units may also be deregulated because of the rent and the tenant's income; these provisions are explained in detail below.

The Office of Rent Administration of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) Gertz Plaza, 92-31 Union Hall Street, Jamaica, NY 11433, (718) 739-6400 administers both systems. Manhattan Borough Rent Offices are located at 25 Beaver Street, New York, NY 10004, (212) 480-6700; and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street - 5th Floor, New York, NY 10027, (212) 961-8939.

Vacant apartments renting for $2,000 a month or more are deregulated. All other apartments switch over to rent stabilization and the first new rent is set by the owner, who is required to notify tenants if they are the first occupants of an apartment that was previously rent-controlled. Tenants who believe their new rent is not based on rents for similar apartments in the neighborhood have until the earlier of 90 days from receipt of the notification or four years from the time the unit was no longer rent-controlled to challenge the rent by filing a Fair Market Rent Appeal with DHCR.

Increases for rent-controlled apartments are derived from two figures: the Maximum Base Rent (MBR), a maximum ceiling for rents, and the Maximum Collectible Rent (MCR), the amount an owner can actually collect. New MBRs are computed for each rent-controlled apartment in the city every two years. However, the annual MCR increase in most cases cannot exceed 7.5% annually, and there are some conditions owners must meet in terms of removing violations and maintaining the apartment in order to qualify for the increase.

Increases for stabilized apartments are established annually by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) 51 Chambers Street, Suite 202, New York, NY 10007, (212) 385-2934, whose members are appointed by the mayor. For renewal leases taking effect on or after October 1, 2002 and on or before September 30, 2003, the guidelines are: 2% for a one-year lease, and 4% for a two-year lease. Although the RGB did not authorize a vacancy allowance, statutory provisions adopted in the 1997 Rent Regulation Reform Act (RRRA) at the insistence of the Senate Majority provide a framework for rather substantial automatic vacancy allowances. Please contact my office if you would like a copy of a special fact sheet we've prepared on vacancy allowances. Owners of apartments that are being sublet may collect an additional 10% increase under the 2002 guidelines; this figure may change next year.

Owners of rent-controlled apartments can apply for "passalongs" for increased labor and fuel costs. Tenants must be notified of filings for these increases and have the opportunity to challenge the request. No passalongs are permitted for rent-stabilized apartments. However, owners of stabilized apartments built with 421-a tax benefits are authorized to collect a special surcharge of 2.2% of the apartment's initial rent each year for the length of the benefit period.

Your rent can be increased if the owner provides you with a new appliance, new equipment or furnishings or new services. But your written consent (and an owner's notification to DHCR, if you are a rent-controlled tenant) is necessary before such increase goes into effect. A tenant does not have to accept new appliances and pay an increase, despite claims by the owner that only new equipment is available for replacements. In the event that an appliance breaks down, the law requires the owner to repair it or replace it with a used or reconditioned appliance in good working order. If a tenant opts for a new appliance, an owner is entitled to collect a permanent monthly rent increase equal to 1/40th of its cost, but only with the tenant's written consent. Owners are also entitled to add 1/40th of the cost of new equipment or improvements to the legal rent for vacant apartments.

Eligible MCIs, the cost of which become a permanent addition to monthly rents, must contribute to the operation, maintenance and preservation of the building, and directly or indirectly benefit all the tenants. The most common improvements are new roofs, elevators, boilers or windows in every apartment.

Completion of the improvements may entitle the owner to increase your rent, subject to approval by DHCR. DHCR may reject MCI applications if owners have failed to maintain all required services in the building or there are current "immediately hazardous" violations in effect. Under its rules, DHCR may grant increases conditioned on correction of violations within a reasonable time frame. The costs of MCIs paid for out of the reserve fund of a cooperative corporation or condominium association, unless reimbursed by a special assessment on unit owners, and those paid from grants from governmental entities, cannot be passed on to tenants living in regulated apartments in such buildings.

MCI increases are permanent additions to your monthly rent of 1/84th of the total cost of the improvement divided by the total number of rooms in your building, and then multiplied by the total number of rooms in your apartment. For controlled tenants, MCI increases are capped at 15% of your rent; for stabilized tenants, the ceiling is 6%. Because of the agency's delay in processing MCI applications, DHCR has been allowing owners of rent-stabilized units to collect an additional temporary increase retroactive to the date that the tenants were served with the owner's MCI application.

When DHCR begins processing an MCI application, tenants receive an official notice outlining the work done and the increase sought. Tenants then have 30 days to challenge the application. Do not pay any MCI increase until you have received a copy of the order authorizing the increase from DHCR.

You have the right to know the maximum amount of rent the owner can charge. Rent-controlled tenants can find this out by filing a request with DHCR. For new rent-stabilized tenants, owners are required to include a special DHCR lease rider that discloses the rent paid by the last tenant. Owners are also required to register the rent for every rent-stabilized apartment with DHCR annually, and provide all tenants with a copy of the registration. Tenants can also find out their last registered rent from DHCR by contacting a Borough Rent Office (see #2) and providing proof they are the current tenants. If, after checking with the owner you believe you are being overcharged, you may file a Rent Overcharge complaint with DHCR. Under the 1997 RRRA, tenants have four years to file an overcharge complaint; late challenges will be dismissed.

Tenants have the right to renew their lease at their option for a one-or two-year period at the RGB's approved renewal guideline then in effect, under the same terms and conditions as their original lease. Owners must use a lease renewal form promulgated by DHCR. New tenants also have the right to choose a one- or two-year lease.

Owners must offer renewal leases between 150 and 90 days prior to the expiration of your current lease, or state a reason why they are not renewing it. If you don't receive a timely renewal notification, remind the owner of his or her obligation in a certified letter, return receipt requested. If no renewal is forthcoming, file an Owner's Failure to Renew Lease complaint with DHCR and sit tight. Until you receive a signed renewal lease, you cannot be charged more than the rent in your current lease.

As a general rule, many stabilized or rent-controlled apartment becoming vacant after July 6, 1993 with a legal regulated of $2,000 or more per month may be deregulated by an owner. A detailed explanation of this complicated issue is available from my office. Apartments that meet the deregulation criteria but are regulated solely as a result of receiving either J-51 or 421-a property tax breaks remain regulated until the owner stops receiving the tax benefits. Deregulation provisions also do not apply when DHCR finds that an owner harassed a tenant in order to vacate the apartment. Under a local city law, owners who deregulate an apartment must, within 30 days of occupancy or the signing of a lease, provide the first new tenant with a detailed notice showing how the rent reached the deregulation threshold and a DHCR phone number and address to verify the new rent.

Owners are also permitted to apply to DHCR for a decontrol or destabilization order if: 1) the combined federal adjusted gross annual income of apartment occupants is over $175,000 for each of the previous two calendar years; and 2) the legal rent for the apartment is $2,000 or more per month. In order to apply for a decontrol/destabilization order, an owner must send the tenant an Income Certification Form by May 1. Owners can do this every year, and tenants must respond within 30 days. The form asks for the names of all occupants and to state whether their combined income exceeded $175,000 in each of the previous two years. For this survey, "apartment occupants" includes all people using the apartment as their primary residence; it does not include temporary occupants, subtenants or live-in employees.

If a tenant reports a total occupant income of over $175,000 for each of the previous two years, owners may file a Petition by Owner for High-Income Rent Deregulation with DHCR by June 30 of that year. Within 30 days of the filing of the form, DHCR must issue an order removing the apartment from rent control or stabilization.

If a tenant fails to return the form, owners may file a Petition For Deregulation, and DHCR will then attempt to obtain income information from the tenant. If a tenant doesn't respond to the request or shows income exceeding $175,000, DHCR must issue a decontrol/destabilization order.

If a tenant reports income below the threshold, an owner has until June 30 to request that DHCR verify the information with the state Department of Taxation and Finance. If DHCR finds that the household income exceeds the threshold, it will issue an order of decontrol/destabilization.

If DHCR issues such an order, a rent-controlled apartment will be deregulated on June 1 of the year after the filing of the income certification form in which the tenant concedes high income, or on March 1 in cases where the tenant disputed high income or failed to respond in a timely manner to DHCR's request for financial information. Rent-stabilized apartments will be deregulated at the expiration of the current lease. Owners who obtain decontrol orders are obligated to offer to continue to rent the apartment to the current tenants at a fair market rent. As is the case with the vacancy decontrol provisions, units which are regulated solely as a result of receiving 421-a or J-51 tax benefits cannot be deregulated until the benefits expire.

The owner may collect a security deposit limited to one month's rent from regulated tenants who moved in after May 31, 1968. There are no rules governing the size of security deposits for free-market apartments.

Owners of buildings with six or more apartments must place all security deposits in separate interest-bearing accounts in the tenant's name, and inform them of the name and location of the bank. Tenants may opt to receive the interest (less 1% of the rate it earned for administrative costs) annually, apply it towards the rent, or take the lump sum when they move out.

Once every three years; owners cannot demand deposits or collect additional fees for fulfilling this obligation.

During the heating season (October 1 - May 31), owners must provide heat as follows: During the day (6 am to 10 pm), if the temperature outside is 55 degrees or less, apartments must be heated to at least 68 degrees. At night (10 pm to 6 am), if the temperature is 40 degrees or less, apartments must be heated to at least 55 degrees.

Owners must supply hot water throughout the year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees.

If the owner fails to provide heat or hot water, keep an accurate daily record of this and report it to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development's (HPD) Central Complaint Bureau (212) 824-4328. For lack of heat, be sure to record the temperature outside and inside. My office can provide you with special Heat Sheets for keeping track of this information.

Tenants have the right in an emergency to purchase fuel oil for their building and deduct the cost from their rents. However, they must follow a specified procedure. For detailed information call HPD at (212) 824-4328, or my office.

Unless greater rights are allowed in their lease, rent-stabilized tenants have the right to sublet their apartments for two years out of any four-year period subject to the owner's consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld. Unless provided for in an old lease or some special agreement with the owner, rent-controlled tenants have no legal right to sublet their apartments. Detailed subletting instructions are available at my office.

A tenant may sublet an apartment if the owner unreasonably withholds consent or fails to respond to a request to sublet. A tenant cannot sublet if the owner reasonably withholds consent.

"Reasonable" objections can include things such as the past rental history of the prospective subtenant, or information indicating a tenant's intention not to re-occupy the apartment.

Rent charged to a subtenant by the prime tenant cannot exceed the legal rent plus up to a 10% surcharge, payable to the tenant, if the apartment is furnished. The owner is also entitled to collect an additional 10% adjustment under this year's RGB order for a sublet apartment. The sublet term may exceed the term of the lease, provided the lease is renewed by the prime tenant(s). Tenants must continue to maintain their apartments as their primary residences, and must intend to re-occupy them as such. Tenants who overcharge a subtenant are subject to the same stiff penalties as owners who overcharge. Under the new regulations, subletting can be considered as a factor if an owner brings a primary residence challenge.

Only senior citizens over age 62 who have been accepted for residency in certain adult care facilities or designated senior housing can terminate a lease without penalty; 30 days notice to the owner is required in the manner outlined in the statute.

For all other renters, a lease is a legally binding contract, and tenants may be held liable for the rent for the balance of the lease term if an owner brings an action in court. While many owners may be pleased about a tenant leaving before the lease is up since it may mean additional rent increases through a vacancy lease or apartment improvements, tenants should be wary of counting on this to protect them from legal action. The best bet is to discuss the situation with the owner well in advance of the time you want to move out.

The Warranty of Habitability Law, the Housing Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling Law and other laws guarantee tenants certain essential services and protections. Tenants have the right to a safe, well-maintained, livable apartment, to organize and hold tenants' meetings in their building and to make complaints about lack of services without reprisals or harassment.

Owners must: identify and register with HPD the name of both the owner and agent authorized to make emergency repairs and post a phone number in the building where the owner/agent can be reached at all times; provide regular extermination services if needed; provide daily garbage disposal by compactor or in a sufficient number of covered garbage cans; keep public areas of the building and lot clean and free of vermin; provide janitorial services; and keep the building in good repair. In apartments, this means walls, ceilings, floors, windows, plumbing, heating, fixtures, doors, functioning locks on each apartment, owner-installed and maintained appliances, adequate lighting in building public areas, peepholes on apartment entrance doors, elevator mirrors and locks on all main building doors.

For multiple dwellings of nine or more units, a super must live on the premises or within 200 feet of the building.

Owners must have access to your apartment in an emergency that might result in damage to the building or other apartments, such as a broken water pipe or gas leak. Owners are also permitted to enter apartments with reasonable notice to inspect and make needed repairs. If your lease requires you to give the owner a key to a lock you installed, you must do so.

f you have a problem with building services or need repairs, first speak to the owner or the agent. If they fail to respond to your complaint, put it in writing and mail it by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all correspondence and records of conversations. If the owner does not act in a reasonable period of time (determined by the urgency of the problem), consider the option directly below

Seek a rent reduction. File an application with DHCR for a Rent Reduction Based on Decreased Service(s). DHCR has the authority to order a rent reduction until services are restored. If the problem is just with your apartment (cracked plaster, peeling paint, inoperable appliances, broken plumbing, etc.), file an individual complaint; if the problem is building-wide (no heat and hot water, roaches or vermin, leaking roof, common areas in disrepair), file a building-wide complaint in tandem with your neighbors. In filing either complaint, remember to be thorough and specific in describing all the problems in your apartment or building; make sure to check the box on the form indicating that you want a rent reduction; and personally sign the complaint.
IMPORTANT NOTE: under changes in the regulations that are being challenged in court, certain conditions are now considered "de minimis" in nature, and DHCR will no longer order rent reductions for them. Examples of such conditions are listed in the regulations.

Call HPD's Central Complaint Bureau (212) 824-4328. The agency will send inspectors to examine your problem, and can issue orders to correct violations.

If your problem is serious, you may want to bring an action in Housing Court. If your problem involves building-wide services, it is a good idea to undertake any legal action through a formal tenants' association, although you may pursue an individual action. To bring an owner to court, three forms, obtainable from the Housing Court at 111 Centre Street, must be completed: an Order to Show Cause, an affidavit detailing the complaint and an Affidavit of Service.

The $35.00 filing fee per action may be recovered if you win your case. If you cannot afford the fee, you may apply to have it waived. Once the proper forms have been filled out and the papers are served, you will be notified of a hearing date. Judges can levy fines, issue orders to correct violations and appoint special administrators to run problem buildings.

Two other tactics have been used successfully by tenants but involve greater risks and commitments of time and energy: withholding rent and "repair and deduct." In the former, tenants withhold rent until needed repairs are made or services provided; in the latter, tenants undertake to make the repairs themselves, and deduct the cost from their rent. There is no statutory authority for repair and deduct. Decisions to use these methods should be carefully considered, as they could result in eviction proceedings based on non-payment of rent. It is advisable to consult an attorney before undertaking either of these courses of action.

The 1997 RRRA imposes additional requirements on tenants involved in eviction proceedings where rent is owed. When a tenant has requested two adjournments, or in any event where more than 30 days have elapsed since the parties first appeared in court, the judge must, upon an application by the landlord or his or her attorney, direct the tenant to deposit with the court all rent from the date of service of the court papers as well as future rent as it becomes due. When the apartment is in a building with 12 or fewer units, the judge must require the tenant(s) to pay the undisputed amount, if any, directly to the landlord, and deposit any amount remaining in dispute with the court. Tenants who fail to make the required payments may lose the ability to make certain arguments to the court in defense of their non-payment of rent, or the trial date may be accelerated.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although some courts have ruled that elements of the rent deposit law are unconstitutional as applied in particular cases, these decisions are currently under review and as such do not provide guidance that can be relied upon by tenants in these situations.

The 1997 RRRA codified in statute most of the existing DHCR regulations on who can remain in an apartment when the tenant named on the lease or the statutory tenant dies or moves away - a subject known as "succession rights". Under the law, a "family member" who has resided in the apartment with the statutory or lease signing tenant as a primary resident for a period of either 1) two years immediately prior to the death or departure of the prime tenant; or 2) if for less than such period, then since the inception of the tenancy or the commencement of the relationship, is entitled to remain in the apartment and/or to be offered a renewal lease.

"Senior Citizens" and "Disabled Persons" who have resided in the apartment as primary residents for a period of either one year immediately prior to the death or departure of the named tenant or the inception of the tenancy or commencement of the relationship qualify for succession rights.

"Family Member" includes the 1) husband, wife, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, father-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law or son-in-law of the tenant or 2) any other person residing with the tenant who can prove emotional and financial commitment and interdependence.

IMPORTANT NOTES: Under the regulations, a tenant may at any time advise the owner, or the owner may request at the time a renewal lease is offered, the names of all persons residing in the apartment and whether they meet any of the standards and definitions listed above, or, with the passing of time, would be entitled to succession rights. A tenant's failure to provide such information places on any family member who subsequently seeks to exercise their right of succession the burden of proving that they are entitled to such right. A tenant has the right at any time to have a spouse added to a lease or a renewal lease

Provided a tenant continues to occupy the apartment as their primary residence, a tenant named on a lease, or a statutory tenant, has the right to have one unrelated roommate and that roommate's dependent children reside with them. Immediate family members of the named tenant do not count as roommates. However, when more than one person is named on the lease, the total number of roommates and named tenants may not exceed the number of tenants named on the lease. Tenants who take in a roommate are required to notify the owner or respond to a request from the owner about who is living in the apartment within 30 days of a formal request for such information.

Under the new regulations, an owner can begin eviction proceedings against a tenant for charging a roommate more than a proportionate share of the rent, and the subtenant may be able to collect treble damages from the prime tenant for any illegal overcharge.

Roommates can be added to leases only with the owner's consent.

Primary residence is a legal concept that loosely means the place where you make your home. No hard and fast definition exists, but based on past court cases and guidelines in new DHCR regulations, courts will consider the following factors in determining primary residence challenges:

. the use of another residence for more than half the year;

. the use of another address on a tax return, motor vehicle registration, driver's license, voter registration, or other forms filed with public agencies; and

. the subletting of the apartment.

Primary residence is not something to trifle with. Tenants not maintaining their primary residence in an apartment are not protected by rent control or rent stabilization.

[text missing here] If your lease specifically permits pets or is silent on the issue, you may have pets. Lease clauses banning pets are binding. However, "no-pet" clauses are void if owners don't act to enforce them within three months of the time the tenant began openly keeping a pe

The City's SCRIE program freezes rents for eligible tenants and provides property tax relief for the owner in return. To be eligible for a SCRIE, you must be 62 years of age or older, have a household income (after taxes) of $20,000 or less and be paying more than one-third of your income for rent. You must apply for a SCRIE and recertify your eligibility every two years. Tenants who experience a permanent decrease in income of more than 20% can apply to have their benefits recalculated. Under a new law, tenants with a SCRIE cannot lose their eligibility because of increases in income due to Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).

Figures show that only a fraction of eligible recipients are receiving the SCRIE benefits to which they are entitled. If you or someone you know may be eligible for SCRIE, please call or pick up an application in my office or call the SCRIE office at the City's Department for the Aging (212) 442-1000.