FINDING FOUR DHCR HAS IMPROPERLY DISMISSED OR GIVEN FAVORABLE TREATMENT TO AN UNDETERMINED NUMBER OF CASES INVOLVING CERTAIN REALTY AND MANAGEMENT COMPANIES WHICH ENTERED INTO AGREEMENTS WITH THE STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE. When the Attorney General's office encounters conduct which it believes may be violative of law but does not warrant prosecution, it may enter into an "Assurance of Discontinuance" with the party in question. The party will specifically agree to abstain from certain actions or take certain steps to correct improper actions and to assure that they will not engage in the activity which the Attorney General seeks to prohibit. Evidence presented at the Assembly's hearings indicated that such Assurances of Discontinuance have been used by DHCR to both close cases which should have been processed and give favorable treatment to firms involved in such assurances when no such special treatment was warranted. In one example discussed at the hearing, the Attorney General's office entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the Argo Realty Company initially covering certain specified apartment buildings owned or managed by Argo. Pursuant to the Assurance, Argo agreed to conduct an audit of the rental histories of a specified number of its apartments, refund monies to any tenants who the audit found had been overcharged, and, if a pervasive pattern of overcharging was revealed by the audit, expand its scope to cover additional apartments. The Assurance provided that it was not to be construed to deprive any tenant from pursuing any rights or remedies in a court of competent jurisdiction or before the Conciliation and Appeals Board or its successor. The Assurance thus stipulated that affected tenants retained their right to file overcharge complaints and have those complaints adjudicated by DHCR. DHCR apparently dismissed an unknown number of tenant overcharge complaints, however, solely on the basis that DHCR believed the Argo Assurance of Discontinuance meant that overcharge complaints in all buildings managed by Argo did not have to be considered by DHCR. One DHCR dismissal noted that the "parties (had) advised" DHCR that the owner had entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the Attorney General's office and, therefore, DHCR was dismissing the tenant's complaint. In fact, in this particular case, the building was not one of the buildings listed in the Assurance of Discontinuance, but merely another building which happened to be managed by Argo Realty. The "parties" never advised the DHCR of the Assurance of Discontinuance since the tenant had no knowledge of it prior to receiving the decision dismissing his complaint. And finally, even if the Assurance did apply, it was no basis for dismissal since it specifically provided that the tenants reserved all their rights to proceed in court or before DHCR. It is unknown how many overcharge complaints filed against Argo Realty may have been dismissed on such grounds. Rent examiner Elliot Vizansky testified that he had been told by the Deputy Director of the Backlog Unit, Gene Kelly, to forward all cases involving Argo Realty to him for special processing. Deputy Director Kelly testified that he would personally review and segregate such cases and assign them to special examiners selected by him for completion. Other cases were also singled out for special treatment apparently because Assurances of Discontinuance had been entered into by the Attorney General. Rent examiner Elsie Carney testified that she had been instructed to accept all rental histories submitted by the Carol Management Company as truthful without requiring that leases or other evidence be submitted to substantiate Carol Management's claims of what the legal rent was in apartments they managed. This was contrary to the procedures generally used in other overcharge cases according to Ms. Carney, where leases or other evidence were required to document all claims about apartment rental histories. Ms. Carney testified that the reason she understood her supervisor had told her to give favorable treatment to Carol Management was that "[T]he Attorney General had made some kind of arrangement" in such cases. From the testimony received at the hearing, it appears that Deputy Backlog Unit Director Gene Kelly and other DHCR staff improperly dismissed or directed favorable treatment in such cases because they did not understand the legal effect of the Assurances of Discontinuance they were relying upon. DHCR staff apparently believed that the existence of an Assurance of Discontinuance indicated that the overcharges against the covered owners were settled or that rent reviews had been conducted and refunds had taken place where appropriate. As indicated above, this was not a correct assumption to be drawn from the existence of such Assurances. In fact, the terms of the Argo Realty Assurance described above specifically contradicted such a conclusion and left tenants free to pursue their individual claims. The Argo Realty and Carol Management cases brought to light at the hearing indicated that DHCR may have improperly dismissed or given favorable treatment to a number of cases involving firms which entered into Assurances of Discontinuance with the Attorney General's office. Further investigation will be necessary to determine the full scope of such improprieties.