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 possible. 4. DHCR should conduct a legal audit of its processing procedures. 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 changes. 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 goals. 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 improvements. 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 language: 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 agency. 9. DHCR staff should be trained to take actions which reduce the number of complaints and applications filed with the agency. 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 Unit. 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 complaints. 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.