Questions And Answers About Tenants' Rights

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried
December 1, 1989
242 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
Tel.: 807-7900

RENT

Is my apartment rent-controlled or rent-stabilized?

Your apartment is 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, controlled tenants have one old lease or no lease: stabilized tenants renew leases every one or two years.

Apartments in buildings constructed after 1974 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 tenants are based on when the tenant moved in, when the building was built or rehabilitated and what clauses were included in leases. Special rules also apply to buildings owned by non-profit institutions such as hospital or colleges.

Who runs each of these systems?

Both systems are administered by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) at: Gertz Plaza, 92-31 Union Hall Street. Jamaica. NY 11433. The Borough Rent Office for Manhattan is at: 156 William Street, New York, NY 10007.

What happens if I move into an apartment that was previously rent-controlled?

The apartment switches over to rent stabilization and the first new rent is set according to a "fair market value" -- based on rents for similar apartments in the neighborhood. There are limits to how high this free market rent can for, but prospective renters of just decontrolled units are advised not to raise objections until after the lease is signed. Then, having secured the apartment, the tenant may challenge the new rent. (Of course, it would be ill advised to enter into a lease that is unaffordable in the wishful thinking that your challenge to the free market rent will necessarily prevail). Owners are required to notify tenants if they are the first occupants of an apartment that was previously rent-controlled. Tenants who believe the rent is too high have 90 days from receipt of the notification to challenge the rent by filing a Fair Market Rent Appeal with DHCR.

What are the new rules guiding "luxury decontrol?"

In 1994 the New York City Council passed a bill which deregulates apartments renting for $2000 or more, when the occupants have an income of $250,000 or greater for the previous two years. Additionally, any apartment becoming vacant with a rent of $2000 or more is subject to decontrol.

How are increases determined for rent-controlled apartments?

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 is limited to 7.5% annually.

Do not pay any increase until you have received both of these forms. Check your landlords' figures to be sure that your new MCR is not more than 7.5% above the previous rent, and also no higher than the rent ceiling (MBR).

Most importantly, owners are not eligible for the increase if they failed to remove 100% of all rent-impairing violations and 80% of all other recorded housing code violations as of January of the previous year. Because of a shortage of inspectors, DHCR is allowing some owners to certify that they have met this standard. without actually inspecting apartments. If you believe any of these regulations are not being met, you can file a Tenant Objection within 33 days of your receipt of the increase notification

How are increases determined for rent-stabilized apartments?

Increases for stabilized apartments are established annually by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) whose members are appointed by the mayor. New tenants who sign vacancy leases (the first lease after the prior tenant moved out), must pay a vacancy increase in addition to guidelines increases, although in some years restrictions may apply.

[Note: these percentages change every year -- check for current percentages.]

[For renewal leases taking effect between October 1, 1996 and September 30, 1997, the guidelines are: 5% for a one year lease and 7% for a two year lease. Further, apartments with rents lower than $400 are subject to an additional $20 increase. The vacancy allowance is 9% for all new tenants (plus $20 only if the apartment rented at or below $400 at the time of the vacancy).]

What additional increases can affect regulated apartments?

SURCHARGES: Owners of rent-controlled apartments can apply for passalongs for increased labor and fuel costs. Tenants are notified of the applications 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 assistance are authorized to collect a special surcharge of 2.2% of the initial tent each year for the length of the benefit period.

NEW APPLIANCES: Your rent can be increased if your landlord provides you with a new appliance. But your written consent (and DHCR's approval, if you are a rent-controlled tenant) is necessary before the installation of the equipment. A tenant does not have to accept new appliances, despite any claims by the landlord that the only equipment available for replacement is new equipment. In the event that an appliance breaks down, the law requires the owner to replace it with a reasonably equivalent appliance in good working order. If a tenant opts for a new appliance, a landlord is entitled to collect a permanent rent increase equal to 1/40 of the cost of the improvement.

MAJOR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS (MCIs): Eligible MCIs must contribute to the operation, maintenance and preservation of the building; directly or indirectly benefit all the tenants; and be done in all similar components of the building or building complex. The most common improvements are new or reconditioned roofs, elevators, boilers or windows in every apartment.

Completion of the improvements may entitle the landlord to increase your rent, subject to approval by DHCR. These are permanent increases to your rent, which are 1/60 of the total cost of the improvement, or 1/84 of the total cost of the improvement for projects begun after June 27, 1990, divided by the total number of rooms in your building, and then multiplied by the total number of rooms in your apartment. For rent-controlled tenants, MCI increases are capped at 15% annually; for stabilized tenants, the ceiling is 6%.

Before any increase is effective, you must receive an official notice providing details of the owner's MCI application. You then have 30 days to challenge the application.

If my apartment is rent-stabilized, how long a lease am I entitled to when my current one expires?

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

What should I do if my landlord won't renew my lease?

Owners must offer renewal leases between 150-120 days prior to the expiration of the tenant's lease. or state the reason why they are not renewing the lease. If you don't receive a timely renewal notification. remind your landlord of his 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. In stabilized apartments, all a renewal lease does is give the owner the right to collect more rent.

What is the maximum security deposit I must make?

The landlord may charge no more than one month's security deposit for tenants who moved in after May 31, 1968.

Am I entitled to interest payments on my security deposit?

Owners of buildings with six or more apartments must place your security deposit in a separate interest-bearing account, inform you of the name of the bank. and add to your security deposit the interest that it earns. You may request that the landlord pay you the interest (less 1% for administrative costs) annually; apply it towards your rent; or pay it to you when you move.

Am I entitled to a receipt for my rent payments?

Yes.

How can I check my legal rent?

You have the right to know the maximum amount of rent your landlord can charge. Rent-controlled tenants can find this out by filing a form with DHCR.

For new rent-stabilized tenants. owners are required to include a DHCR lease rider which notes the rent paid by the last tenant. Landlords are also required to register the rent for every rent- stabilized apartment with DHCR annually, and provide a copy of the registration to the tenants. Rent stabilized tenants not provided with the required rider or rent registration can file a form with DHCR to find out this information. Tenants who believe they are being overcharged should file an overcharge complaint with DHCR.

What are the eligibility requirements for a Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE)?

To be eligible for a SCRIE. you must be 62 years of age or older, have a household income (after taxes) of $20,000 and be paying more than one-third of your income in 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. For current SCRIE recipients, increases in income due to Cost of Living Increases (COLAs) cannot result in loss of eligibility.

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.

[Note -- SCRIE amounts periodically change. Check for current info]

SERVICES

How often must my landlord paint my apartment?

Once every three years: no deposit from tenant is required.

What about heat and hot water?

During the heating season (October I through May 31) your landlord must provide heat as follows: During the day (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), if the temperature outside is below 55 degrees your apartment must be heated to at least 68 degrees. At night (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). if the temperature is below 40 degrees your apartment must be heated to at least 55 degrees. Your landlord must supply hot water at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees.

If your landlord fails to provide heat or hot water, keep an accurate daily record of this and report it to the Central Complaint Bureau (824-4328). For lack of heat, be sure to record the temperature outside and inside. My Community Office can provide you with special Heat Sheets for this.

What can tenants do in an emergency when here is no heat?

Tenants have the right, in an emergency, to purchase fuel oil for an empty tank in their building and deduct the amount of the purchase from their rents. However, you must follow a specified procedure. For further information call HPD at 240-7349.

What services must a landlord provide?

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

Your landlord must: identify and register the name of both the owner and agent authorized to make emergency repairs with HPD and list 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 by 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 and plumbing, heating. fixtures, doors. a lock on the outer door of each apartment, landlord-installed and maintained appliances, adequate lighting in building public areas, peepholes on entrance doors, elevator mirrors and main building door locks.

Does my building have to have a super living on the premises?

The law requires that for multiple dwellings of nine or more units, a super must live on the premises or within 200 feet.

What right does my landlord have to enter my apartment?

Your landlord must have access to your apartment in an emergency which might result in damage to the building or other apartments. such as a broken water pipe or gas leak. Landlords are also permitted to enter your apartment in order to inspect and make repairs upon reasonable advance notice. If your lease requires you to give your landlord a key to a lock you installed, you must do so.

What if I don't receive proper services or repairs?

If you have a problem with building services or need repairs, first speak to your landlord or his agent. If your landlord fails to respond to your complaint, write your landlord or his agent by certified mail. return receipt requested. Keep copies of your correspondence or a record of your conversation. If your landlord does not act in a reasonable period of time (determined by the urgency of the problem). consider these options:

SEEK A RENT REDUCTION. File an application with DHCR for a decrease in rent based upon decreased services. 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. If 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.

REQUEST A CODE ENFORCEMENT INSPECTION. Call the Housing Code Enforcement Unit of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (824-4328). They will send inspectors to examine your problem and issue orders to correct violations.

GO TO HOUSING COURT. 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 a landlord 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 $25.00 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. The HPD Tenant Assistance Unit (240-5109) will assist you in filling out the forms and instruct you in how to serve them. Once the papers are served, you will be notified of a hearing date. Judges can levy fines. issue orders to correct violations and appoint administrators to run the 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 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 not be taken lightly, as they could result in eviction proceedings based on nonpayment of rent. You may want to consult an attorney or my Community Office for help with these two courses of action.

What are the provisions of the window guard law?

If you have children ten years old or younger, your landlord is required to install guards in the windows of your apartment and in the public hallways of the building. Windows on fire escapes may not be blocked. Tenants may be charged $10 per guard.

What about smoke detectors?

Landlords of multiple dwellings must install one or more approved smoke detectors in each apartment, within 15 feet of any bedroom. Tenants may be asked to reimburse the owner up to $10 for the cost of purchasing and installing each battery-operated detector.

OTHER RIGHTS

What are my rights to sublet my apartment?

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 landlord's consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld. Rent-controlled tenants generally are not entitled to sublet their apartments without the landlord's consent.

A stabilized tenant may sublet an apartment if the landlord unreasonably withholds consent or fails to respond to a sublet request. A tenant cannot sublet if the landlord reasonably withholds consent. A "reasonable" objection may, for example, be based on the past rental history of the prospective subtenant.

Rent charged to the subtenant cannot exceed the legal rent plus no more than a 10% surcharge, payable to the tenant, if the apartment is furnished. The sublet term may exceed the term of the lease, provided the lease is renewed by the prime tenant. A tenant must continue to maintain the apartment as a primary residence, and must re-occupy it as such. Overcharge of a subtenant can result in substantial penalties on the tenant.

Who has the right to stay in an apartment when the statutory (lease-signing) tenant moves away or dies?

In response to a landmark court decision ofJuly 1989, DHCR promulgated new regulations on who can remain in an apartment when the tenant named on the lease or the statutory (legal) tenant dies or moves away--an area know as "succession rights". These regulations are a significant improvement over the prior standard in effect, because they recognize the more modern families in which so many of us live.

Under these new regulations, a "family member" who has resided in the apartment with the statutory (lease-signing) tenant as a primary resident for a period of either two years immediately prior to the death or departure of the tenant; or if for less than such period, then since the inception of the tenancy or the commencement of the lease-is allowed to remain in the apartment and to be offered a renewal lease. "Senior Citizens" and "Disabled Persons" who have resided in the apartment for a period of one year immediately prior to the death or departure of the tenant qualify for succession rights.

The minimum period of required occupancy described above is not deemed to be interrupted if the family member is absent from the apartment due to: (1) military duty, (2) enrollment as a full-time student, (3) a court order not involving any term or provision of the lease and not involving any grounds specified in the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, (4) job-related, temporary relocation, (5) hospitalization or medical treatment, or(6) for any other reasonable grounds that shall be determined by DHCR upon application by a family member.

"Senior Citizen" means a person 62 years of age or older. "Disabled Person" means a person who has an impairment which results from anatomical, physiological or psychological conditions, other than addiction to alcohol, gambling, or any controlled, which are expected to be permanent and which substantially limit one or more of such peron's major life activities.

"Family Member" is any of the following: husband, wife, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, brother, sister, nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, grandfather, father-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, or son-in-law of the tenant.

In addition, any other person residing with the tenant who can prove emotional and financial commitment and interdependence with the tenant is also protected. Although no single factor determines if the latter relationship exists, the following factors are evidence of such a relationship: (1) longevity, (2) sharing of expenses, (3) interminkling of finances-such as joint bank accounts, personal and real property, credit cards, loan obligations, (4) formalizing of legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities to each other, (5) engaging in any other pattern of behavior, agreement or action which evidences the intention of creating a long-term, emotionally-committed relationship.

Many tenants experience problems adding the name of their spouse to the lease. But this should not be a cause for undue alarm, since the rights of succession, for a spouse and others listed above, apply regardless of whether or not only tenant of record's name appears on the lease.

May I have an unrelated roommate who has not signed my lease?

As long as the tenant continues to occupy the apartment as the primary residence, the tenant has the right to have one unrelated roommate and that roommate's dependent children reside with you in the apartment. Immediate family members of named tenants do not count against that total. If a landlord asks the names of the people living in the apartment, the tenant must comply with the request within 30 days.

Can I add my roommate's name to the lease?

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

What is meant by primary residence?

Primary residence is a legal concept which loosely means the place where you make your home. No hard and fast definition exists, but in general, in order to occupy an apartment as a primary resident. a tenant must: 1) file state and city tax returns from that address; and 2) live in the apartment for more than half the year. Other factors which are sometimes given weight in proceedings are: driver's license, car registration, voter registration and utilities. Primary residence is not something to trifle with. Tenants not maintaining their primary residence in an apartment are not covered by rent control or rent stabilization.

May I keep pets in my apartment?

If your lease specifically permits pets or is silent on the issue, then you may have pets. Lease clauses banning pets are binding. However, "no-pet" clauses are void if landlords don't act to enforce them within three months of the time the tenant began openly keeping the pet, the owner being deemed to have given consent under such circumstances.

CO-OP CONVERSIONS

The laws governing co-op conversions are complicated. You can avoid unnecessary anxiety, rumors and misinformation by quickly forming a tenants' association; getting advice from a lawyer, as well as an engineer or architect; and distributing information about rights and procedures as soon as you receive notice of a pending co-op plan.

Landlords may try to convert under either an eviction plan, which requires sales to at least 51% of the tenants living in the building; or a non-eviction plan, under which only 15% of the apartments must be sold before the plan is effective.

Because of a weakness in the law, no sales must be to tenant- residents. No more than 10% of the apartments in a building may be kept vacant during conversion, a standard we are trying to tighten.

The initial offering plan or 'Red Herring" sets forth the owner's proposed terms of sale. Only after it has been reviewed and accepted for filing by the Attorney General's office may the selling period begin, and then only after a "Black Book" or formal prospectus has been presented to each tenant. Tenants who do not purchase under eviction plans can be evicted unless they are "exempt senior citizens" (62 years of age or older) or "disabled persons" (if disability is permanent and keeps the person from being employed) and elect to receive these special protections. No one may be evicted until three years after the effective date of the co-op plan. The vast majority of co-op conversions are non-eviction.

Both non-purchasing tenants in a non-eviction plan and protected tenants in an eviction plan are entitled to receive the same rights and services they enjoyed when the building was fully rental. It is the sponsor's obligation to provide these services while he controls the board; after that, the co-op corporation or condominium association is responsible. If you are facing a co-op conversion, there are a few things to keep in mind: I) a co-op plan is not a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposition; all aspects of the plan may be negotiated; 2) tenants may not be summarily evicted no matter which plan is pursued by the owner; 3) a united tenancy is your best protection as well as important leverage in a co-op attempt by your landlord. More detailed information on co- op conversion is available from my Community Office. We are available to help you and your building organize to respond to a co-op offering.


This is a copy of a brochure published by New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried in 1989.

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