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NYC Rent Control for the 99%

February 08, 2012

By Kelley Boyd (@msksboyd)

NYC Rent Control: Overpriced Apartments

Why are rents really so out of control for supposedly rent controlled apartments in NYC and what can tenants do to protect their rights as renters when landlords raise rents illegally, fail to maintain their units, or generally behave badly?

The current wave of “we're not going to take it anymore” protests groups is encouraging. We could talk about change, talk about budgets and taxes, and linear relationships and non-linear relationships to understand all the implications of rent prices in NYC - BUT we can’t do that all today. Let’s focus today on the tools we already have to work with in the current New York City rental system.

Enforcement of Rent Control in NYC

So why ARE the rents in NYC so out of control? It’s simple: the rental laws on the books are not being enforced. Really? Yep - both landlords and tenants commit fraud on the system. Part of the issue is that there are different agencies for different problems. They span local, city and state agencies - and they don't talk to each other. The difference is that landlords are in the business of understanding and maximizing the rent laws - even if it means strategically making decisions to violate the laws that would be the biggest burden to enforce (currently thought to be apartment improvements). Tenants, for the most part, are ignorant of what the rules are and how to improve their circumstances. That is the focus of this column - to challenge you to be responsible for holding bad landlords accountable and to give you the tools to do so.

Rent Controlled Apartments NYC: When to File a Complaint

So when do you file a complaint? Since there are different agencies to report different things to - but the most important thing is to know what you are complaining about and that you are talking to the right agency.  If there are problems with heat, hot water, trash, bedbugs or snow removal, mold, leaks etc. you should call 311 and report there. To see past history of issues with a building go to the HPD website.  If you are at odds on the terms of the lease (either way), you would be going to City Court - at 111 Centre St. I have some tips in an upcoming column to help shortcut some issues you may have there.  Last, and the black hole of housing in NY State, is the Division of Housing (and Community) Renewal. Insight into the workings of the DHCR, and the other avenues for help, will be the focus of future column(s) -- and are sure to be crowd pleasers!

So that's the who / where of filing a complaint, but what about the when? You should file a complaint when your landlord fails to follow the rules, even seemingly insignificant rules, and you haven't been able to get a remedy. Before you file a complaint with an agency, first ask for what you want from the landlord or management company -- and document those requests. Keep copies of maintenance requests, etc. Actually, you should document anytime the terms of the lease and/or rider are violated.  For example, you would be surprised how important it is that you get copies of your signed lease or that you get statements accounting for your deposit and the interest and fees you pay.

Rent Controlled Apartments Manhattan: Protect Your Renter Rights and Obtain Your Apartment's Rental History

Even if you've got a copy of your lease and all associated documents, how do you know if it's right, and how do you know if you're paying too much in rent? Each lease has to conform to State apartment lease standards and may even have unique provisions.

To protect your rights, you should, at a minimum, do these two things:

1. Read your lease to find out which set of rules applies to you.

Seriously - read your lease and all the papers attached - riders, etc. If you don’t you will certainly not catch that tiny box that may be buried in a section, top of page 5 by the staple, so faint that it is almost impossible to see, and could be the difference between you paying your landlord to illegally evict you or not getting evicted. Find the box - check the box!!

2. Request your rent history as soon as you move into a new apartment.

How do you find out what previous tenants paid to rent your apartment?

Just phone the DHCR (718-739-6400) and request that your apartment's rent history be sent to you. (Expect to wait on hold approximately 20 minutes.) You must be able to receive mail at the precise address you are inquiring about - thus, you generally have to live there. But that seems to be the only requirement for obtaining the apartment's rent history. Look for large jumps in rent not associated with a change in status - meaning going from rent controlled to rent stabilized - or a Major Capital Improvement.

The big picture about rental real estate is this - there’s lots of instructional or piecemeal information available - this column is not about linking to those stores of websites - it is about helping to illuminate the purpose of the requirements and how to participate in the system that has been set to protect you though oftentimes seems to be working against you.

Next time in this space - the big decisions and the changes in rent laws that may soon roll back rents in NYC, and...

"What is rent control exactly?"

Disclaimer: Kelley Boyd is not a lawyer nor has she played one on TV - though she does represent herself in her own rent-related court-room dramas! (Cue Law and Order music). The references and details shared in these posts are from direct experience as a pro-se complainant / respondent in City Civil Court and the NY State Supreme Court on landlord / tenant law.

Kelley Boyd is a serial entrepreneur who is not afraid to tackle the really hard things. Three years into the abyss of the DHCR with a rent overcharge claim, this column is a conduit for all that is crazy about NY Rental Board Guidelines. Get connected at or at