Bleak House: Recommendations


1.   DHCR and the Administration should focus less on how DHCR
     looks and pay more attention to how it operates.

     The findings of this report demonstrate that DHCR officials
     have done a poor job of managing the agency. Their primary
     concern appears to have been to keep a lid on any public
     perception that DHCR is in chaos.

     In 1986, DHCR responded to charges of massive disarray with
     falsified statistics and a rush to dispose of its caseload.
     Pressures from tenants, landlords and legislators delayed
     DHCR's promulgation of the Rent Stabilization Code for
     almost two years while DHCR struggled through draft after
     draft to clean up its work product. And the continued
     political volatility of the rent regulation issue has
     apparently convinced DHCR and the Administration to sit on
     the sidelines entirely when it comes to landlord/tenant
     legislation. The end result of these actions may have been
     less political cost over the short term but a failing rent
     regulatory system in the long run.

     DHCR needs professional, experienced management and a
     commitment from the Administration that the substantive
     running of the agency over the long run is more important
     than the day-to-day perceptions of the media and the public.
     Without such a change in attitude, any reforms DHCR
     undertakes will not be successful.

2.   DHCR should commission a full scale audit and analysis of
     its management and communications systems and develop a
     comprehensive plan to correct the disorganization which
     presently plagues them.

     The one bright spot in the otherwise dismal picture of
     DHCR's case processing system is the fact that the agency
     finally has completed an evaluation of its automation needs
     (two years after it should have) and is now in the process
     of installing the automation system recommended in its
     analysis. If the installation of this new system is
     successfully completed and can be effectively utilized by
     DHCR, the overall efficiency of the case processing system
     could be greatly improved. Other systems at DHCR, however,
     remain in chaos with no apparent plans to correct them.

     The management structure of the agency, the way the staff is
     structurally and functionally organized and the way it
     interacts, is in need of analysis and reorganization. Much
     of the telephone system, more than a year after the
     completion of DHCR's last major relocation, continues to be
     substantially unworkable. The mail system is in disarray and
     the agency continues to lose mail and case files at an
     alarming rate.

     The Administration should immediately commission a full
     scale audit and analysis, preferably by an outside
     management consulting organization, of the entire scope of
     DHCR's operations and develop a comprehensive plan to
     improve them. DHCR must be able to communicate effectively
     within the agency and with its constituents before other
     improvements can be successful.

3.   DHCR should institute a comprehensive training program for
     its employees and managers and develop standard written
     procedures for processing cases.

     As was noted earlier, DHCR rent examiners responsible for
     processing cases and their supervisors and managers
     presently receive no formal training prior to assuming their
     duties. The Assembly survey noted in Finding One, in which
     DHCR offices were called and asked basic factual questions
     about tenants' rights, found that DHCR public information
     specialists gave out incorrect information much of the time.
     And there are no uniform written procedures which direct
     rent examiners on how to deal with most of the issues they
     confront in their daily work. The result is the chaos and
     widely disparate case processing results described in this
     report. A comprehensive training program, the development of
     detailed work manuals describing how examiners should
     process cases and the standardization of processing
     procedures among examiners would help eliminate these
     problems. Such steps should be instituted as soon as

4.   DHCR should conduct a legal audit of its processing

     As was noted in Finding Three, DHCR has been systematically
     violating the provisions of the Rent Stabilization Law and
     Code in its case processing. DHCR should immediately
     commission a legal audit of its processing procedures to
     insure that these violations of law do not persist. A legal
     audit should also be conducted of any work training manuals
     or standardized processing procedures which DHCR develops
     pursuant to recommendation #3 above, to insure that such
     documents or procedures do not result in additional
     violations of law.

5.   DHCR should set priorities for its workload.

     When owners have installed legitimate major capital
     improvements or tenants live in a building whose landlord
     has ceased to provide essential services DHCR must be able
     to act swiftly and forcefully to enforce the law. At the
     same time, when complaints or applications on their face
     have no validity, there should be a procedure for handling
     them without their being put into the full case-processing
     system. Based on the testimony received at the hearings, the
     establishment of such priorities apparently has not been
     done at DHCR. Generally all complaints and applications,
     whether frivolous on their face or life threatening, get
     equal treatment -- slow and error-prone. DHCR should examine
     the case-processing system to see if priorities could be
     established that would devote different degrees of attention
     to different types of cases. Many priorities could be
     established administratively. Others may require legislative

6.   DHCR and the Administration should pursue statutory reforms
     in the rent regulation system along two tracks: first, the
     Administration should consider the need for comprehensive
     changes in the basic structure of the rent regulatory laws;
     second, DHCR and the Administration should seek less
     sweeping statutory and administrative changes to improve the
     effectiveness and efficiency of the laws DHCR is presently
     charged with administering.

     Almost every objective observer agrees that the basic
     structure of New York's rent regulatory laws is in need of
     reform. DHCR has submitted a plan to the Governor to revamp
     the system. It is now up to the Administration to make a
     decision on what its vision of the future of the system will
     be and then propose and push for legislation to enact those

     While pursuing a broad-based reform agenda, however, DHCR
     and the Administration should simultaneously conduct an
     analysis of the existing statutes DHCR administers and
     develop a package of less sweeping proposals to improve the
     operation of the system presently in place. While it is
     conceivable that a complete revamping of the rent regulation
     system could take place in the near future, it is also
     possible that the present system could remain largely intact
     for years to come. While broad reforms are pursued,
     therefore, DHCR should simultaneously push for less
     comprehensive changes in its existing statutes. The
     committees are convinced that there are numerous
     opportunities for improving DHCR's statutory framework today
     and are committed to working with DHCR to achieve such

     To accomplish both goals, DHCR and the Administration must
     get involved in the legislative process in a much more
     deliberate and intensive way than they have done thus far.
     DHCR and the Administration should submit Program or
     Departmental bills early in the legislative session. And
     then the Administration and DHCR officials should vigorously
     push to have those proposals enacted into law.

     Many DHCR personnel are aware of provisions of the current
     rent regulation laws that impede their ability to
     effectively accomplish the general mandates they are working
     to carry out. It is time for DHCR and the Administration to
     crystallize this institutional wisdom and present it to the
     Legislature. Sitting on the sidelines must end.

7.   DHCR should make services available at local District Rent
     Administration Offices.

     As was noted in Finding One, local district rent
     administration offices, which were originally intended by
     the Legislature as the places where tenants and landlords
     received most of the services they needed from DHCR, today
     provide only copies of forms and limited public information
     services to the public. Tenants and owners must travel to
     Jamaica, Queens in order to obtain most of the other
     services they need from the agency. DHCR should make as many
     services as possible available at local district rent
     offices, convenient to the homes and businesses of its
     constituents. The Division's new automation system should be
     structured to help DHCR in decentralizing its operations and
     the opportunities for decentralization presented by the
     system should be fully utilized by DHCR.

8.   DHCR should publish. distribute and regularly update the
     following materials:

     A.   An organizational chart, listing department heads and
          functional units of the agency together with their job
          responsibilities, addresses and telephone numbers;

     B.   A tenants and owners guide which describes in plain

          1.   The statutory and regulatory provisions of the
               rent regulation system;

          2.   The specific procedures tenants and owners must
               follow when filing complaints or applications with
               DHCR together with the names and numbers of all
               sets of relevant forms;

          3.   Alternatives to filing complaints with the agency;

          4.   Procedures for determining case or application
               status; and

          5.   Community and advocacy organizations which provide
               assistance to tenants and owners in dealing with
               housing problems and the rent regulatory system.

The publication and distribution of the materials listed above
would greatly assist DHCR's user community and could also cut
down on the information requests which are presently made to the

9.   DHCR staff should be trained to take actions which reduce
     the number of complaints and applications filed with the

     Several tenants and owners testified that DHCR staff have a
     tendency to address apparently simple questions and requests
     with the direction to file one of a myriad of DHCR forms.

     This is a natural and human reaction. If a question or
     problem is difficult to resolve, a staff person can
     eliminate his or her immediate workload by having the tenant
     or owner file a form. Thus, a tenant who is not sure what
     his rent is can be directed to file an overcharge complaint,
     an owner who wishes to know the status of her case must file
     a Freedom of Information Law request and a person whose
     evidence has been lost in initial processing must file a
     Petition for Administrative Review. In the long run,
     however, each such form must be processed by the agency, and
     what saves work for one staff person initially, creates much
     more work for the agency in the long run.

     Much of the form-filing philosophy prevalent at DHCR now
     comes about because of the disarray of the system. DHCR
     staff often cannot deal with questions and problems short of
     opening up an entire new case file. If the agency's
     automation system is successfully completed, however, and
     DHCR improves its operations in other areas, it should be
     possible to deal with many common requests and questions
     which presently require new forms to be filed without taking
     such actions.

     DHCR staff should be trained to take full advantage of such
     new opportunities. This does not mean staff should seek to
     dissuade people from taking actions to enforce their legal
     rights. It does mean, however, that where questions or
     problems can be successfully resolved without recourse to
     opening new cases, staff should take the time to do so when
     initial contact with the public is made rather than avoiding
     such efforts and creating a new workload later on.

10.  DHCR should meet regularly with its Tenants' and Owners'
     Advisory Councils.

     DHCR has established tenants' and owners' advisory councils
     to give the agency input on its policies and procedures and
     keep the leaders of its constituent groups up to date on
     actions taken by DHCR. From 1985-87, the Division let more
     than a year lapse between its meetings with both groups. In
     the future, DHCR should schedule meetings with both councils
     on a regular basis.

11.  DHCR should establish a Small Building Owners' Assistance

     As was noted in Finding One, DHCR has not fulfilled the
     law's requirement to establish a separate unit to deal
     exclusively with the problems of small building owners. Such
     a unit should be established and fully staffed by personnel
     trained to deal with issues arising in this subject area.

12.  DHCR should be forthright when dealing with individuals
     filing complaints and applications.

     A tenant who is told at the outset of filing a complaint
     that it may take more than a year to resolve will probably
     be somewhat angry. A tenant who files a complaint and then
     waits for a year with no resolution or communication
     whatsoever about what is going on has every right to be
     furious. Therein lies a lesson for DHCR. The agency should
     be upfront and honest with its constituents about how the
     case-processing system works. In the long run, tenants,
     owners and DHCR will be better for the knowledge.

     DHCR should be able to let people filing complaints or
     applications know at the time of filing the average
     resolution time for the type of case they are filing, as
     well as provide them with written materials on how the
     processing system works. If no work is done on a case for
     three months, DHCR should notify the parties of the current
     status and explain the reason for the processing delay. Such
     steps would both allow parties to more accurately predict
     how the case resolution process works and know they have not
     been forgotten by the agency.

13.  DHCR should consolidate cases involving the same building, a
     apartment or landlord.

     Based on testimony received at the hearing, it appears that
     under current DHCR procedures cases involving the same
     issue, for example, two tenants in the same building filing
     separate complaints about building wide services, are often
     handled completely independently. Cases involving the same
     building or issue may be handled by separate rent examiners
     neither of whom has knowledge of the work done by the other.
     Such a system both cuts down on examiner efficiency and
     creates the potential for similar cases to be resolved in
     different ways.

     Courts of law, when confronted with similar situations, seek
     to consolidate all cases relating to an issue into a single
     proceeding. DHCR should, when possible, do likewise.

14.  DHCR should encourage direct contact between its
     constituents and the rent examiners who process their cases.

     Based on testimony received at the hearing, the vast
     majority of communications between DHCR and its constituents
     during case-processing occurs by mail. Much of this
     communication is anonymous with requests for information
     sent without the signatures or names of any DHCR personnel
     or contact person. In cases where letters are signed, they
     are often signed by DHCR officials in charge of processing
     units rather than the examiners responsible for handling the
     case. Providing the names of examiners to tenants or
     landlords might be appropriate in some instances as a means
     of facilitating case-processing.

     In addition to personalized correspondence, DHCR should
     allow examiners greater access to telephones in processing
     cases in certain instances. While there are obvious reasons
     for depending primarily on formal communications by mail,
     there are instances where telephone communications to
     clarify, reiterate the need for or seek additional
     information may produce good results and these opportunities
     should be encouraged by DHCR.

15.  DHCR should review its forms and paperwork requirements and
     where possible simplify and consolidate them.

     Many owners testified that they believe DHCR imposes
     excessive paperwork requirements on persons involved in the
     case-processing system. DHCR should conduct an analysis of
     the forms and paperwork it presently requires owners and
     tenants to file, and where possible, simplify and
     consolidate those requirements.

16.  DHCR should take steps to improve employee morale.

     As was noted in Finding Four, rent examiners who appeared at
     the hearing testified that morale in their offices was
     extremely low. Staff felt that preferential treatment was
     given to some examiners and that working conditions and the
     treatment they received from supervisors was poor. Staff at
     the Columbus Circle office also felt insecure about their
     job tenure, since most are apparently classified as
     "provisional" employees with no job tenure or security. Some
     provisionals had worked for DHCR for over a year and still
     had not achieved more permanent status. Poor working
     conditions decrease the effectiveness of the services
     provided by an organization. A secure, motivated, well-led
     staff, it goes without saying, produces a better work
     product. Employee morale should have a high priority.

17.  DHCR should assign PAR docket numbers with logical
     connections to the docket numbers of the original underlying

     Presently if a case is appealed, it is assigned a new docket
     number which bears no relationship to the docket number of
     the original complaint. In cases where a tenant files
     several complaints therefore, and a decision in one of them
     is appealed by either party, it is difficult and sometimes
     impossible for the owner or tenant to know which of the
     several complaints filed by the tenant the appeal refers to.
     This problem could be remedied easily by assigning docket
     numbers to PARs which directly related to the original case.
     For example the PAR docket for case 3561, on appeal could
     become docket 3561-P.