MRNY members protest against DHCR.
Maria de los Santos, a Brooklyn tenant and member of Make the Road New York, was illegally overcharged more than $3,000 by her landlord. With the help of MRNY’s legal team in 2009, Maria submitted an illegal rent overcharge complaint, but it took the state housing agency almost a year and a half to respond.
On August 9, MRNY launched a campaign to protect tenants across New York City from illegally high rents and demand that Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) protect their rights.
Standing alongside State Assembly Members Francico Moya and Hakeem Jeffries, MRNY members released a report showing how the problem of illegally high rents is widespread and how little the government is doing to stop it. The report, “Rent Fraud: Illegal Rent Increases and the Loss of Affordable Housing in New York City,” looks at the rent histories of 200 tenants and finds that 64% of apartments have had at least one type of rent irregularity, including inflated rent.
As the State agency that administers rent laws, DHCR requires landlords to register rents every year, however, our report shows that even when landlords submit obviously illegal rents, DHCR does nothing unless the tenant complains.
And when tenants do complain, as in Maria’s case, DHCR frequently takes a year or even longer to respond to illegal rent overcharge complaints: “We had no response from DHCR at all for more than a year,” Maria said. “That whole time, the landlord continued to harass me and pressure me to drop the case.”
The report also finds that DHCR is not accessible to the most vulnerable tenants. It’s challenging for anyone to navigate DHCR but even more difficult for tenants who do not speak English. Almost all of DHCR’s information and services are in English and MRNY found that only 17 out of 100 calls to the Spanish telephone line were answered by a Spanish speaking agent.
MRNY is calling on DHCR to do its job and enforce the rent laws more effectively. The report proposes several changes at DHCR:
- Proactive enforcement of the law, including automatic investigation of all illegal rent overcharges;
- More effective communication with tenants, including improved language access; and
- Improved handling of rent overcharge complaints, including a steep reduction in the time it takes to process complaints.
This campaign will help protect tenants in New York City against rent fraud so people like Maria are not stuck paying illegally high rent and don’t become at risk for losing their homes.
For more information about this campaign or to get involved, talk to Raquel Namuche, Housing and Environmental Justice Organizer.