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Questions and Answers about Tenants Rights - Liz Krueger

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Questions and Answers about Tenants Rights - Liz Krueger Powered By Docstoc
					  October, 2007                                                                                                       211 E. 43rd St., #1300
                                                                                                                       New York, NY 10017
   Vol. 6, No. 3                                                                                                         (212) 490-9535



                     REPORT TO NEW YORKERS ON HOUSING FROM STATE SENATOR LIZ KRUEGER
Dear Neighbor,
    With the growing shortage
                                      Questions and Answers about Tenants’ Rights
of affordable housing — for       What services are tenants entitled to?
both renters and homeown-             The Warranty of Habitability Law, the Housing Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling
ers — there has never been        Law and other State and City laws guarantee tenants certain essential services and protections.
a more important time to          Tenants have the right to a safe, well-maintained, livable apartment, to organize and hold tenants’
understand your rights and        meetings in their building and to make complaints about lack of services without reprisals.
how current housing rules             Owners must register with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and
apply to you. While there is      Development (HPD) the name of both the owner and agent authorized to make emergency
not enough space to address
                                  repairs, and list a phone number in the building where the owner/agent can be reached at all times;
all pertinent facts, rights and
                                  provide regular extermination services if needed; provide daily garbage disposal by compactor or
obligations or to explain these
complex matters in as much        in a sufficient number of covered garbage cans; keep public areas of the building and lot clean and
detail as they require, this      free of vermin; provide janitorial services; and keep the building in good repair. In apartments, this
newsletter covers issues that     means walls, ceilings, floors, windows, plumbing, heating, fixtures, doors, functioning locks on each
come up most often in my          apartment, owner-installed and maintained appliances, adequate lighting in building public areas,
District Office. You should       peepholes on apartment entrance doors, elevator mirrors, and locks on all main building doors.
be aware, however, that there     What are my responsibilities as a tenant?
are exceptions to the regula-         Tenants have legal responsibilities both to the owners and their neighbors. Tenants must properly
tions and programs outlined       maintain their apartments, discipline their pets, as well as keep stairwells, fire escapes and public
here.                             hallways clean and clear of obstructions. They must keep noise levels down from television sets and
    I am happy to report          stereos and, if required in the lease, cover floors with rugs or carpeting. They must comply with
that there has been signifi-      NYC recycling requirements. Tenants are also obligated to pay the rent on time. By fulfilling these
cant progress in a number         obligations, tenants may help create a more pleasant environment for everyone in the building and
of areas of housing policy        a more positive owner-tenant relationship.
under the Governor. There             Leases are enforceable contracts between tenants and owners and should be complied with by
is a new willingness of staff     both sides. In cases where the lease and the law differ, however, the law prevails, and tenants cannot
from the Division of Hous-
                                  sign away any of their legally protected rights.
ing and Community Renew-
al (DHCR) to meet with            What if I don’t receive proper services or repairs?
tenants and their elected             If you have a problem with building services or need repairs, first speak to the owner or the agent.
representatives, the hiring of    If they fail to respond to your complaint, put it in writing and mail it by certified mail, return receipt
additional staff to work on       requested. Keep copies of all correspondence and records of conversations. If the owner does not act
housing policy and enforce-       in a reasonable period of time (determined by the urgency of the problem) consider these options:
ment, an increase in funding          Request a Code Enforcement Inspection. Call HPD’s Central Complaint Bureau at 311. They
for housing preservation, and     will send inspectors to examine your problem and can issue orders to correct violations.
the establishment of a indoor         Go to Housing Court. If your problem is serious, you may want to bring an action in Hous-
toxins task force to address      ing Court. If your problem involves building-wide services, it is a good idea to undertake any legal
health issues presented by        action through a formal tenants’ association, although you may pursue an individual action. To
mold in apartments.               bring an owner to court, you must obtain and complete three forms from the Housing Court at
    If you need more informa-     111 Centre Street: an Order to Show Cause, an affidavit detailing the complaint and an Affidavit
tion, or help with individual     of Service.
or building-wide problems,            The $35.00-per-action filing fee may be recovered if you win your case. If you cannot afford the
please contact my office at       fee, you may apply to have it waived. Once the proper forms have been filled out and the papers are
(212) 490-9535. We will be        served, you will be notified of a hearing date. Judges can levy fines, issue orders to correct violations
happy to speak with you,
                                  and appoint special administrators to run problem buildings.
either individually or in a
group. Please let me know             Seek a rent reduction. Rent-regulated tenants can file an application with the State Division
if you would like additional      of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for a rent reduction based on decreased service(s).
copies to distribute in your      DHCR has the authority to order a rent reduction until services are restored. Separate complaint
building.                         forms are available for individual and building-wide issues.
    Sincerely,                    What about heat and hot water?
                                     During the heating season (October 1 through May 31), owners must provide heat as follows:
                                  During the day (6 am to 10 pm), if the temperature outside is below 55 degrees, apartments must
   Liz Krueger
                                                                                                                         continues inside...
be heated to at least 68 degrees. At night (10 pm to 6 am), if the         Major Capital Improvements (MCIs): Eligible MCIs must
temperature is below 40 degrees, apartments must be heated to at       contribute to the operation, maintenance and preservation of the
least 55 degrees. Owners must supply hot water all year long at a      building, and directly or indirectly benefit all the tenants. The
constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees.                           most common improvements are new roofs, elevators, boilers or
    If your owner fails to provide heat or hot water, keep an          windows in every apartment.
accuate daily record of this and report it to HPD’s Central                 Completion of the improvements may entitle the owner to
Complaint Bureau at 311.                                               increase your rent, subject to approval by DHCR. DHCR may
Is my apartment rent-controlled                                        reject MCI applications if owners have failed to maintain all
                                                                       required services in the building, the work was not completed
or rent-stabilized?                                                    correctly or there are current “immediately hazardous” viola-
    While there are exceptions to these general rules, your apart-
                                                                       tions in effect. Improvements paid for out of the reserve fund
ment is probably rent-controlled if your building was built
                                                                       of a cooperative corporation or condominium association, unless
before 1947, contains three or more apartments, and you or a
                                                                       reimbursed by a special assessment on unit owners, and those
family member moved in before July 1, 1971.
                                                                       paid from grants from governmental entities, are not eligible for
     Your apartment is likely rent-stabilized if your building
                                                                       MCIs.
contains six or more apartments and 1) was built between 1947
                                                                           These are permanent rent increases to your rent which are
and 1973, or 2) was built before 1947 and you moved in after
                                                                       1/84th of the total cost of the improvement, divided by the total
June 30, 1971.
                                                                       number of rooms in your building, and then multiplied by the
     Generally, controlled tenants have one old lease or no lease;
                                                                       total number of rooms in your apartment. For controlled tenants,
stabilized tenants renew leases every one or two years. Some
                                                                       MCI increases are capped at 15% annually; for stabilized tenants,
apartments that meet the general criteria for rent regulation are
                                                                       the ceiling is 6%. Because of the delay in processing MCI appli-
exempt due to the rent level of the apartment, the timing of past
                                                                       cations, DHCR has been allowing owners of rent-stabilized units
vacancies, or a previous coop or condo conversion.
                                                                       to collect an additional temporary increase retroactive to the date
    Owners of rent regulated apartments are required to register
                                                                       that the tenants were served with the owner’s MCI application.
their units with DHCR each year. If you have questions about
                                                                            When DHCR begins processing an MCI application, ten-
your apartment’s status or legal rent, you can call DHCR at 866-
                                                                       ants receive an official notice outlining the work done and the
275-3427 and speak to a housing counselor. Additional infor-
                                                                       increase sought. Tenants (either individually or as a group) then
mation about the unique rights and obligations of rent regulated
                                                                       have 30 days to challenge the application. Do not pay any MCI
tenants is available on the agency’s website: http://www.dhcr.
                                                                       increase until you have received a copy of the order authorizing
state.ny.us.
                                                                       the increase from DHCR.
How are rent increases determined for rent-                               What lease renewal options apply
stabilized and rent-controlled apartments?                             to rent-stabilized apartments?
     Increases for stabilized apartments are established annu-             Tenants have the right to renew their leases for either a one or
ally by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board whose 9 members are              two year period at the Rent Guidelines Board’s approved renewal
appointed by the Mayor. For renewal leases taking effect on or         rate then in effect, under the same terms and conditions as their
after October 1, 2007 and on or before September 30, 2008, the         original lease. Owners must use a lease renewal form promulgated
guidelines are: 3% for a one-year lease; and 5.75% for a two-year      by DHCR. New tenants have the same right to choose a one- or
lease.                                                                 two-year lease.
     Increases for controlled apartments are derived from two               Owners must offer renewal leases between 150 to 90 days
figures: the Maximum Base Rent (MBR), a maximum ceiling for            prior to the expiration of the tenant’s lease, or state the reason
rents, and the Maximum Collectible Rent (MCR), the amount              why they are not renewing the lease. If you don’t receive a timely
an owner can actually collect. New MBRs are computed for each          renewal notification, remind the owner of his or her obligation in
rent-controlled apartment in the city every two years. However,        a certified letter, return receipt requested. If no renewal is forth-
the annual MCR increase in most cases cannot exceed 7.5% an-           coming, file an Owner’s Failure to Renew Lease complaint form
nually and there are some conditions owners must meet in terms         with DHCR and sit tight. Until you receive a renewal lease, your
of removing violations and maintaining the apartment in order          current lease remains in effect.
to qualify for the increase.                                               Please keep in mind that a tenant’s failure to respond within
What additional increases can affect regu-                             60 days of the offering is grounds for eviction.
lated apartments?                                                      What is “luxury decontrol?”
    New Appliances: Your rent can be increased if the owner pro-           Apartments renting for $2000 or more can be deregulated
vides you with a new appliance, equipment or service. But your         if the occupants have an income of $175,000 or greater for the
written consent (along with an owner’s notification to DHCR, if        previous two years consecutively. In order to apply to DHCR for
you are a rent-controlled tenant) is necessary before such increase
                                                                       a deregulation order, the owner must send the tenant an “Income
goes into effect. A tenant does not have to accept new appliances
and pay an increase, despite any claims by the owner that only         Certification Form” by May 1 of each year. If the tenant refuses to
new equipment is available for replacements. In the event that an      return the form, or if the owner disputes the information that the
appliance breaks down, the law requires the owner to repair it or      tenant submitted, the owner can file a Petition for Deregulation,
replace it with a used or reconditioned appliance in good working      and DHCR will then attempt to obtain the income information
order. If a tenant opts for a new appliance, an owner is entitled to   from the tenant. If the tenant either shows an adjusted gross income
collect a permanent monthly rent increase equal to 1/40th of its       of over $175,000 or fails to return the form within 30 days, DHCR
cost. Owners are also entitled to a 1/40th increase for new equip-     can issue a decontrol/ destabilization order.
ment or improvements in vacant apartments.
What about security deposits?                                          in a roommate are required to notify the owner or respond to
    Owners collect a security deposit limited to one month’s rent      a request from the owner about who is living in the apartment
from regulated tenants. Security deposits for free-market apart-       within 30 days of a formal request for such information. If the
ments are not limited.                                                 tenant named in the lease moves out, the remaining occupant has
    Owners of buildings with six or more apartments must place         no right to the apartment without the owner’s consent.
your security deposit in a separate interest-bearing account and       May I keep pets in my apartment?
inform you of the bank’s name. You may request that the landlord          If your lease specifically permits pets or is silent on the issue,
either pay you the interest annually, apply it towards the rent, or    then you may have pets. Lease clauses banning pets are binding.
pay it to you in a lump sum when you move. Complaints regard-          However, “no-pet” clauses are void if owners don’t act to enforce
ing failure to comply with these security deposit regulations can      them within three months from the time the tenant began openly
be filed with the State Attorney General’s offices.                    keeping a pet.
What are my rights to sublet my apartment?                             Who is eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent In-
    Unless greater rights are stipulated in their lease, rent-         crease Exemption (SCRIE) program?
stabilized tenants have the right to sublet their apartments for           The SCRIE program freezes rents for eligible tenants and
two years out of any four-year period, subject to the owner’s          provides a tax abatement for the owner in return. To be eligible
consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld. Rent-con-              for SCRIE, you must be 62 years of age or older, live in a rent-
trolled tenants have no legal right to sublet their apartments.        regulated or Mitchell-Lama apartment, have a household income
    A tenant may sublet an apartment if the owner unreasonably         (after taxes) of $27,000 or less (increasing to $28,000 on July 1,
withholds consent or fails to respond to a sublet request. A ten-      2008), and be paying more than one-third of your income for
ant cannot sublet if the owner reasonably withholds consent. A         rent. You must apply for SCRIE and recertify your eligibility
“reasonable” objection may, for example, be based on the past          every two years. Tenants who experience a permanent decrease
rental history of the prospective subtenant.                           in income of more than 20% can apply to have their benefits
    If the apartment is furnished, rent charged to a subtenant         recalculated.
cannot exceed the legal rent plus a 10% surcharge, payable to the          Figures show that only a fraction of eligible recipients are
tenant. The owner is also entitled to collect an additional 10%        receiving the SCRIE benefits to which they are entitled. If you or
under this year’s guidelines for sublet apartments. If the tenant      someone you know may be eligible for SCRIE, please call or pick
overcharges a subtenant, the tenant may be liable to the subten-       up an application in my office or call 311.
ant for treble damages. The sublet term may exceed the term of         Who is eligible for the Disabled Rent Increase
the lease, provided the prime tenant renews the lease. Tenants         Exemption Program (DRIE)?
must continue to maintain their apartments as their primary                The DRIE program freezes the rents of disabled people living
residences, and must intend to re-occupy them as such.                 in rent-regulated apartments or Mitchell Lama buildings and pro-
Am I allowed to move out of my apartment                               vides a tax abatement for the owners. Households that are eligible
before the lease is up?                                                include those receiving Social Security Disability, Supplemental
    Only senior citizens over age 62 who have been accepted            Security Income, Veterans’ pensions or compensation, and those
for residency in certain adult care facilities or designated senior    enrolled in the Medicaid Buy-In Program. DRIE is designed to
housing can terminate a lease without penalty following 30 days        work in the same way as SCRIE except that it has lower income
notice to the owner in the manner outlined in the statute. For         limits. The eligibility limit for DRIE varies by household size
all other renters, a lease is a legally binding contract and tenants   and source of income but in general the income limit for single
may be held liable for the rent for the balance of the lease term      individuals is $18,060 and $24,932 for couples. However, there
if an owner brings an action in court. However, many owners are        are certain deductions that are allowed. To obtain an applica-
pleased about a tenant leaving before the lease is up since it may     tion, you can either call 311 to get one from the Department of
mean additional rent increases through a vacancy lease or apart-       Finance or contact my office.
ment improvements. The best bet is to discuss the situation with        What about “free market” apartments?
the owner well in advance of the time you want to move out.                Rental apartments not subject to the rent stabilization or rent
Can the owner enter my apartment?                                      control laws are known as “free market” apartments. Rents for
   Owners must have access to your apartment in an emergency           free market apartments are negotiated. The lease the parties sign
which might result in damage to the building or other apart-           dictates the terms of the tenancy. Tenants should carefully review
ments, such as a broken water pipe or gas leak. Owners are also        such leases before signing, particularly with regard to the tenants
permitted to enter apartments with reasonable notice to inspect        taking occupancy obligations, security deposits, use of parking
and make needed repairs. If your lease requires you to give your       spaces or other building facilities, improvements to be made to
owner a key to a lock you installed, you must do so. Failure to        the apartment prior to the tenant’s taking occupancy, ongoing
grant reasonable access is grounds for eviction.                       maintenance and late charges. Owners of free market apartments
May I have a roommate?                                                 are not required to offer tenants renewal leases. There are no
   Provided a tenant continues to occupy the apartment as their        limits on rent increases. Despite the exemption from rent regula-
primary residence, each tenant named on a lease has the right to       tion, there are a number of laws which apply to all owner-tenant
have one unrelated roommate and that roommate’s dependent              relationships, including the Warranty of Habitability, the NYC
children reside with them. Immediate family members of the             Housing and Maintenance Code, the Multiple Dwelling Law,
named tenant do not count as roommates. Tenants who take               and the Roommate Law.
                            211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1300, New York, NY 10017 • (212) 490-9535
                                                          YOUR HOUSING RIGHTS
                                                                                                 490-9535
                                                                      211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1300, New York, NY 10017 • (212)

                                                                                 office at 212-490-9535
                                                                       numbers and websites, please contact my
                                                                       For a listing of important housing phone

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                                                                           of Incorporation, Declaration of Condominium or Bylaws.
  The Rights of Co-op Shareholders                                       •	the right to be counted in elections proportionate to units or
     and Condominium Owners                                                shares owned.
The rights of condominium owners and co-op shareholders are                  Despite these rights, shareholders and unit owners who are
derived from a complex series of laws, regulations and individual        treated unfairly and arbitrarily by their board have often found
building by-laws and other corporate documents.                          that the deck is stacked against them when they seek changes,
Offerings of condominiums and cooperatives are regulated by              particularly when the board is still controlled by the sponsor. If
the Attorney General under the General Business Law (GBL), a             you hare having difficulties with a sponsor-controlled board, you
statute designed to protect potential buyers from fraud through          can contact the Attorney General’s office at (212) 416-8121.
detailed disclosure requirements. Once cooperative and con-
dominium plans are declared effective, condominiums fall                   Property Tax Exemption Programs
under the NYS Condominium Act and cooperatives fall under                    All homeowners who are New York State residents qualify for
the state’s Business Corporation Law—the same statute that               the Basic School Tax Relief (STAR) program regardless of age
regulates the state’s major corporations. Although both of these         or income as long as they live in the property they are claiming.
statutes grant owners and shareholders some rights, their primary        STAR provides savings of approximately $200 a year. Senior
thrust is to require that co-ops and condos simply address certain       citizens who qualify for Basic STAR and have an annual house-
issues in their operating documents: for co-ops, the proprietary         hold income less than $70,650 are eligible for Enhanced STAR.
lease, house rules, Certificate of Incorporation and by-laws; for        Enhanced STAR provides average yearly savings of $375. In ad-
condos, the Unit Deed or Declaration, house rules and by-laws            dition, this year the State enacted a Middle Class Star Rebate
of the condominium association.                                          Program, which provides an additional benefit for homeowners
    Among the rights of shareholders and condominium owners              with incomes under $250,000. Rebates range from $22 to $131,
under various state and city laws are:                                   depending on income, type of unit, and whether the recipient
•	the right to “quiet enjoyment” and peaceful use of the apart-          has enhanced STAR.
  ment and all public areas and facilities within the co-op or               The Senior Citizen Homeowner’s Exemption (SCHE) is a
  condominium.                                                           partial real property tax exemption available for property own-
• the right to expect that common areas will be maintained in            ers aged 65 years or older with annual incomes below $35,400,
  proper condition, as required under the Real Property Law’s            and who reside in residential properties including one-, two-, or
  “Warranty of Habitability.”                                            three-family homes, condominium units, or cooperative apart-
•	the right to receive all services and use all common facilities        ments. Note: Applicants who qualify for SCHE automatically are
  available to all other owners in a non-discriminatory manner.          eligible for the Enhanced STAR exemption. Individuals who file for
•	 the right to be charged only the approximate proportionate            SCHE do not have to file a separate application for STAR.
  share of the expenses of the co-op or condominium.                         The NYC Department of Finance also administers a Disabled
•	the right to a list of all shareholders in the co-op corporation.      Homeowner’s Exemption (DHE) which provides a partial real
•	the right to participate in an annual meeting of all shareholders      property tax abatement for property owners who have a medi-
  or unit owners and to receive timely notice of the annual meet-        cally certifiable disability, an annual income below $35,400, and
  ing or any special meetings.                                           who own and reside in a one-, two- or three-family home, con-
•	the right to inspect the minutes of all shareholders’ or condo-        dominium or co-op.
  minium association meetings.                                               For more information regarding any of these programs, or to
•	the right to receive an annual financial statement.                    receive an application, you may contact my office at (212) 490-
•	the right to vote to amend the Proprietary Lease, Certification        9535 or the NYC Department of Finance at 311.

				
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