CTRC Fact Sheet Index

TenantNet note: These Fact Sheets were published by CTRC in the mid-1990's. Some information will be out-of-date. As far as we know, there have been no updates to these fact sheets. While much of the information may still be valid, the reader should exercise caution.

CTRC Fact Sheets -- reproduced with permission.
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The Community Training Resource Center (CTRC) is a city-wide not-
for-profit organization that champions the rights of modest and
low-income tenants and promotes the preservation, improvement,
and expansion of affordable housing. CTRC provides training and
technical assistance for neighborhood housing groups, community
based organizations, legislative staffs and social service
providers.

CTRC produces fact sheets on tenants' rights, develops and
publishes research reports, and provides a written guide to New
York City government processes. CTRC advocates on budget policies
that affect housing and related services in low-income
neighborhoods. CTRC has led the campaign for the improvement and
expansion of the city's Housing Maintenance Code inspection and
enforcement services.
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CTRC Fact Sheet #110

RENT REDUCTIONS FOR LACK OF SERVICES

In New York State, all residential tenants are guaranteed, under
Section 235-B of the Real Property Law, certain basic services in
exchange for rent. The "Warranty of Habitability", as this
section of the law is named, makes it mandatory that each
landlord, in every written or oral lease, maintain his building
and property in a condition that is (a) fit for human habitation,
(b) free from conditions endangering or detrimental to life,
health, or safety and (c) in accordance with required and agreed
upon services.

Additionally, the Multiple Dwelling Laws, the Multiple Residence
Laws, the NYC Housing and Maintenance Code and other local codes
spell out in complex and comprehensive detail what landlords are
required to do to lawfully service and maintain their properties.


Rent Regulation and Services

Any building condition that violates a housing code is considered
a required service or repair under the New York City Rent
Regulatory Laws (Rent Control or Rent Stabilization), but not
every required service is a result of a provision in the housing
codes. Many services provided to regulated tenants are not
mentioned in the housing codes, but are required because they
were provided as of certain "base dates" designated in the
regulatory laws or were granted by the lease.

For example, tenants in a large building who have been storing
family travel trunks and suitcases in special, secured, basement
wire cages designed for such purpose, are suddenly notified by
the landlord to remove their possessions as he intends to
discontinue use of the space for tenant storage.

The right of tenants to have storage space provided in a
residential building basement is generally not found in the
standard housing laws or codes. Yet for the regulated tenants in
this building it is a required service because it is a service
that has always been provided and proveably on the appropriate
base dates. The landlord's request, in this situation, may be
denied and the tenants maintain the right to the continued use of
the storage facility.


Rent Control Base Date

Services that were provided in rent controlled apartments in New
York City on March 1, 1943 are now required services for those
apartments.


Rent Stabilization Base Dates

There are two base dates determining required services for
apartments subject to New York City Rent Stabilization:

     May 31, 1968 for apartments that were stabilized on or
     before June 30, 1974 (post-1947 construction).

     May 29, 1974 for apartments that became stabilized on or
     after July 1, 1974 (pre-1947 construction).


Initial Step

It is advisable that tenants, as their initial act to secure
repairs or regain necessary or required services, contact the
landlord by certified mail (return receipt requested). They
should, in the letter, identify specific building problems and
how long they've persisted, list all previous requests to the
landlord that he correct these problems, if any, and request,
again, that the landlord begin corrective work. The letter should
also ask for a reply within a reasonable time (ten business Days)
and state that unless there is a reply, the tenants will take the
necessary legal and/or administrative actions to secure
compliance.

In any strategy that tenants undertake to improve building
conditions, this type of letter is useful in supporting the
tenant's position that they have acted in a reasonable and
responsible manner.


Housing Court

In New York City, Housing Court, a branch of the Civil Court has
been set up to handle landlord/tenant disputes. Many tenants
whose landlords have stopped or reduced services, deliberately
withhold rent and wait to be sued for non-payment of rent in
Housing Court. There, the tenant may defend against the non-
payment claim by citing the reduction in services and in a
counterclaim ask for a rent abatement for the period of time the
tenants were without services.

Tenants may get quicker results, especially where serious repairs
or service reductions are involved, by filing a "Housing Part" or
"HP" action in the same court. The Judge will hear tenant
allegations about code violations and can verify the complaints
by sending an inspector to investigate the claims. The Court, in
conjunction with HPD's Litigation Unit, will write and issue a
court order for repairs to be completed by a specified date. If
the landlord fails to comply with the order, tenant's may return
the case to court for civil penalties and contempt proceedings
against the landlord. This court proceeding has no jurisdiction
over rent issues.


HPD, Division of Code Enforcement

The New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and
Development (HPD) maintains a Code Enforcement Division that
inspects complaints involving individual apartments and
conditions in public areas of a building. Inspectors report on
their findings, issue violation notices to owners and refer
emergency conditions to HPD's Emergency Services Bureau for
corrective action. It is charged with, but limited to, enforcing
the Multiple Dwelling Law and the Housing Maintenance Code but
has no jurisdiction over services that have come to be designated
as "required" by the rent regulatory laws alone, such as the
basement storage space "service" mentioned above.


NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal

Regulated tenants have an additional administrative remedy; the
New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR),
which administers the Rent Control and Rent Stabilization Laws
throughout the city and state, will accept and process tenant
complaints of lack of repairs or service reductions. The agency
will process the complaint by assigning it to a DHCR rent
examiner or inspector, who will determine how the law applies and
what remedy is needed. Administrative proceedings rarely require
the tenant to appear in person as most communication will be
through the mail.

However, a DHCR complaint can take many months, if not years, to
process and tenants who require a more timely resolution are
advised to start a court action as described above. But for many
regulated tenants who cannot spare the time or expense for such
action, the DHCR may be the only practical way to enforce their
rights. Even if a tenant, or tenant group, decides to seek court
adjudication, it is advisable, in most cases, to file with the
DHCR as well, to increase pressure on the landlord. Awards of
separate rent reductions in court and from the DHCR are possible.


Complaint Forms

Three DHCR complaint forms are available to tenants:

Form RA-81     Application For A Rent Reduction Based Upon
               Decreased Service(s) -- Individual Apartment

               This form may be used by the tenant of a
               individual apartment to complain of lack of
               services or repairs within that apartment.

Form HHW-1     Failure To Provide Heat And/Or Hot Water -- Tenant
               Application For Rent Reduction Form

               for individual tenants only. Tenant groups must
               use Form RA-84 to complain together of lack of
               heat and hot water. Please see our separate fact
               sheet entitled Heat and Hot Water Complaints.

Form RA-84     Application For A Rent Reduction Based Upon
               Decreased Building-Wide Service(s)

               This may be used by a tenant of a single
               apartment, or by two or more tenants, to complain
               of lack of services or repairs that are building-
               wide, such as front-door security, broken bell and
               buzzer system, malfunctioning elevator, dirty
               halls, or lack of heat or hot water.


Completing and Filing DHCR Forms

1.   All parts of the complaint form should be completed; request
     a rent reduction!

2.   Tenant Associations should get as many members as possible
     to sign the Supplemental Signature and Affirmation (RA-81.1)
     Additional tenants may sign on during the processing period.

3.   Documents in duplicate. DHCR requires all complaints,
     including supporting papers, to be filed, with originals and
     duplicates of all documents.

4.   Copy of all Filings. Originals of vital documents (leases)
     should not be submitted, only copies. Tenant's will be
     notified if originals are required.

5.   Certified mail or by hand. Certified, return receipt
     requested or registered mail is safest, but not required. If
     delivered by hand, a file copy should be date-stamped
     "received."

6.   No oral agreements with the landlord or DHCR after filing.
     All communication should be in writing.

7.   Type or print the complaint. The success of the complaint to
     some extent depends on the way it is presented.

8.   Don't overdo the complaint. It should be simple and to the
     point, with no emotional narratives.

9.   File a Reply to the landlord's answer to the complaint
     within 20 days; the DHCR is required to send the answer, if
     they determine it to be relevant. (Sometimes they don't,
     which might be a failure of due process depriving the tenant
     of the right to examine and reply. To counter, tenants
     should request examination of the entire case file.) If the
     landlord actually fails to file, the tenant should win by
     default.

10.  Notification of inspection. The DHCR inspector must have
     access to all apartments and building areas mentioned in the
     complaint. Failure to give a DHCR inspector access may
     result in the dismissal of the complaint.

11.  Petition for Administrative Review (PAR) An appeal may be
     filed within 35 days of the issue date of the DHCR order if
     the complaint is rejected. See our fact sheet, Petition for
     Administrative Review.

12.  File all forms with: DHCR-Office of Rent Administration,
     Gertz Plaza, 92-31 Union Hall Street, Jamaica, New York
     11433.


Measure of Rent Reduction

The DHCR service complaint, if successful, can result in a
substantial rent reduction. If that rent reduction extends to
most or all of the tenants, based on a building-wide problem, it
becomes a powerful incentive for the landlord to restore services
and/or make repairs.


Rent Control

For rent controlled tenants, DHCR utilizes a schedule of values
to determine the size of the rent reduction. This is a list of
conditions with dollar values assigned to them that will
subtracted from the rent if the tenant wins the case. For
example, the schedule allows a rent reduction of one-twelfth the
rent (one month's rent a year) for failure to paint the whole
apartment. Other conditions, such as peeling plaster, only allow
a few dollars to be deducted from the rent.

Prior to February 1990, failure to maintain any required service
in a rent controlled apartment that resulted in a rent reduction,
also resulted in the rent being frozen, including MCR increases.
Since then, the DHCR orders the rent to be frozen only if there
is a failure to maintain an essential service (services necessary
to the life or safety or health of the tenant). Complaints filed
before that date are not effected by the change.


Rent Stabilization

For rent stabilized tenants,- there is no schedule of values. The
law itself specifies the amount of the rent decrease. When the
DHCR makes a finding of failure to maintain services, the rent
must be reduced by subtracting the most recent guideline rent
increase in effect on or before the effective date of the DHCR
order. This type of rent reduction is often called "loss of
current guideline." Additionally, the landlord loses the right to
collect any future rent increases (lease renewal guideline, major
capital improvement, etc.) while the rent reduction order is in
effect. If the tenant's lease comes up for renewal, it can
provide for the normal guideline increase over the old lease
rent, but the increase can not be collected. The landlord must
get the DHCR to issue a rent restoration order to remove the two
penalties.

The DHCR does not calculate the dollar amount of the rent
reduction and assigns that responsibility to the landlord who
often doesn't do it. The tenant may have to make the calculation
based on the effective date of the order and the rent increases
paid on or about that effective date.

An apartment that becomes vacant after an order reducing and
freezing the rent is issued, is not eligible for any rent
increases when a new tenant moves in. But how is the new tenant
to know that the rent in fact, is frozen? All new stabilized
tenants are advised to get a computerized rent history of their
apartment from the DHCR to determine, among other things, whether
such orders are in effect.

In certain circumstances, a rent reduction order results in the
loss of two rent increases. For example, rent reduction orders
are usually made effective retroactively to the first of the
month, following the month when DHCR performed the inspection.
The actual DHCR written order may not be issued for many months
later, so the period of retroactivity could be six or more
months. If during that period a tenant renewed the lease and paid
an increase, the rent should be reduced by both the guideline in
effect on the effective date of the DHCR order, and the guideline
collected after the effective date of the order. Other future
increases would still be barred.


Restoration of Rent

If a landlord restores services that were the subject of a DHCR
order, he may apply for a restoration of the rent. The
restoration of rent application (DHCR Form RTP-19) must specify
the conditions cleared and contain a certification that services
are being maintained. When the DHCR gets the landlord's
application, it sends a copy to the affected tenants (or their
representative) for a reply. If the landlord has not properly
(according to NYC codes and housing maintenance standards)
cleared all or has only cleared some of the conditions, the
tenants can oppose the restoration of rent and request another
DHCR inspection to determine the facts. Failure by the tenants to
reply will almost guaranty that the rent will be restored.

If the application is granted, the restoration is made
retroactive to the first rent payment date 30 days after the
application was filed which may be a considerable number of
months. In addition, an order restoring the reduced rent also
restores other guidelines increases that were barred while the
reduction order was in effect. A sizeable amount of rent arrears
may accumulate and be sought by the landlord. Tenants should be
aware of this possibility, and when they receive notice of a
pending application for rent restoration, be prepared for the
necessity of paying this accumulated back rent.

The DHCR may issue more than one rent reduction order based on
different service complaints, but will only allow one rent
reduction order to be in effect at a time. Fortunately, if a rent
restoration is issued against one but not another rent reduction
order, the rent remains reduced.

Rent restoration orders, as mentioned earlier, are subject to
administrative review. If tenants believe the rent restoration
order to be unjustified, they may file a Petition for
Administrative Review (PAR) on DHCR Form RAR-2.


DHCR Administrative Problems

Processing of complaints can be very slow because the DHCR has
very few inspectors to handle a very large caseload. This
shortage of staff may also result in inspections that do not
investigate all conditions cited in a tenant's complaint,
especially if they are not clearly described. The resulting order
may then direct the landlord to restore only some of the services
or only make some of the repairs that are needed.

Similarly, in rent restoration applications where the landlord
has claimed all services to have been restored when only some
have been, the DHCR may mistakenly restore the rent. Tenants now
have the burden of filing a PAR or filing a new complaint
involving the uncorrected conditions.

Finally, DHCR orders can be both vague and legalistic, confusing
tenants as to how they may best proceed to assert their rights.

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These article are Copyright 1995 and 1996 by Community Training Resource
Center (CTRC) and reproduced by TenantNet. They may be freely
redistributed in their entirety provided they are reproduced exactly
as in the originals, including this copyright notice, the opening and
closing informational banners and any references to either CTRC
or TenantNet must be included.

These article are provided as is without any express or implied
warranty. While any information in these article is believed to be
correct at the time of writing, these articles are for educational
purposes only and do not purport to provide legal advice. If
you require legal advice, you should consult with a legal
practitioner licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Community Training Resource Center                (212)964-7200
47 Ann Street
New York, NY 10038

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