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Posted by Lilly on January 19, 2002 at 17:31:12:

Tenant/Inquilino, January 2002
By Dave Powell

On Dec. 10, over 60 tenants and their allies showed up at Brooklyn Criminal Court to support a lawsuit challenging recent changes to the state's Rent Stabilization Code. A pre-court picket drew close to two dozen tenants, while more waited up to a half-hour in line to get into the building. After getting past the metal detectors and learning that the room for the opening arguments had been changed, tenants were informed that the hearing had been postponed.

Because both sides had submitted last-minute briefs, Judge Richard Rivera postponed opening arguments, so as to have time to adequately review the briefs. Lawyers representing tenants saw the postponement as a positive indication that Rivera was reviewing the merits thoroughly. The tenant picket and presence, called by Met Council, also got the issue some much-needed media attention; Channel 11, WNYC radio, the New York Post, The Daily News and the Brooklyn Papers all dispatched reporters.

The lawsuit, filed by various groups including Met Council, alleges that the state Division of Housing Community Renewal (DHCR) overstepped its
authority by making drastic code changes without the approval of the state
Legislature, sufficient public input, or impact studies. Although the case
is a state Supreme Court case, overcrowding at the Brooklyn Supreme Court
building has forced the case to be heard at the neighboring Criminal Court.
The change of venue appears to be incidental, but the symbolism of trying
Governor George Pataki's DHCR in Criminal Court is not lost on tenants.

The new code gives landlords unprecedented loopholes for overcharging and
removing apartments from rent stabilization, by replacing "legal registered
rent" with "legal regulated rent," implying that a rent is whatever the
landlord charges, regardless of what is registered with DHCR. Another
provision in the new code limits the amount a primary tenant can charge a
roommate, to a "proportionate" share of the legal regulated rent, usually
50%. The new restrictions place real hardship on poor, elderly and disabled
tenants on fixed incomes, who often rely on roommates to make ends meet. A
tenant accepting greater than 50% of the total rent under this provision
may face eviction. Another provision in the new code allows landlords to
charge "surcharges" for appliances like washing machines or services such
as cable hook-ups.
Although the changes were "codified" on Dec. 20, 2000, the DHCR has yet to
issue bulletins explaining how they will be implemented. However,
individual landlords have been trying out aspects of the new code. One
Housing Court judge decided that a tenant who had charged her roommate more
than 50% of the legal rent could be evicted, although that case is being

Other provisions of the new code make it harder for tenants to challenge
major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and to get reductions in
rent for reductions in services. (If you are being taken to court or
otherwise challenged by your landlord over issues relating to the new code
changes, contact Met Council.)

The one-sided and brazen severity of the code changes has led tenant
advocates to conclude that they were written with, if not by, lobbyists for
the real-estate industry. They represent the latest installment of Gov.
Pataki's career-long assault on rent regulation, and the over 2 million of
us whom rely on it for protection. When he was elected governor in 1994,
Pataki's transition platform emphasized his vision for dismantling tenant
pro- tections. His subsequent transformation of DHCR, from a sometimes-fair
agency to an openly pro-landlord unit, is known by virtually all tenants
who have sought its assistance in recent years. Despite Pataki's 1997
pledge to enact stronger harassment measures against landlords, the new
code creates a provision allowing tenants to be evicted for "harassing"
their landlords.

Tenants will return to Brooklyn Criminal Court on Friday, Jan. 25. For
details, contact Dave Powell at Met Council: (212) 979-6238, ext. 6.

Friday, January 25, 2002
Brooklyn Criminal Court Building*
120 Schermerhorn St. (bt. Smith & Boerum)

Picket in Front of the Court House
9:00 am 9:30 am SHARP!
Pack the Court Room (Room 1002F**)
9:30 am 1:00 pm

SUBWAY: A/C/G to Hoyt/Schermerhorn, 1/2/ to Hoyt St.,
or 1/2/4/5/N/R to Court St./Borough Hall

*Although this is a Supreme Court case, we have been assigned a room in
the Criminal Court building. Give yourself an extra half hour to get
through the metal detectors.

** If our room is moved again, ask where to find Judge Riveras Court Room.
Our case appears on the calendar as: "Brooklyn Housing & Family
Services... vs Joseph Lynch/DHCR", Docket # 14191-01

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