DHCR To Close Dormant Cases

In a reversal of its previous policy, the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal has decided to speed up the closing of older overcharge cases where the tenant has not responded to a notice sent to them. The agency will now interpret the tenant’s silence as a willingness to drop the complaint. Tenants whose notices are returned to DHCR by the Post Office as having moved will also suffer the same fate. DHCR has dubbed the mailings “wake-up notices.”DHCR has suggested this as a policy for many years, according to members of the Tenant Advisory Committee, a group of appointed tenant activists that meets with agency officials to discuss policy and procedures on behalf of tenants. “In the mid-’80s,” said Bill Rowen, a TAC member since 1984, “the DHCR deputy commissioner for rent administration tried to float a notice form that explicitly stated that failure to return the form would result in the closing of the complaint.”

The new policy was adopted by the Pataki administration without the advice of the TAC members. “Whether they discussed it with the Owner Advisory Committee members or not, it is a policy that will please landlords mightily,” said Rowen.

It’s legally problematic for DHCR to close cases because tenants do not respond, said tenant lawyer Andi Novick. “What if you don’t reply because you’ve already submitted six different responses over the past four years that you consider sufficient, or you are out of town?” she asked. “It is utterly violative of due process.”

The policy was reported in the February issue of Apartment Law Insider, a monthly self-help newsletter for landlords. The article emphasizes DHCR’s receptiveness to requests by landlords for the agency to send “wake-up” notices to their tenants. The newsletter reported that DHCR on its own intends to pull case files and send notices to the tenants involved, starting with complaints filed in 1984 and working forward.

An anonymous source within the agency stated that the Apartment Law Insider article has caused some consternation within the DHCR hierarchy. The source did not elaborate on what issues caused the stir.

Met Council attempted to determine if DHCR intends to close these cases by issuing an order or by simply closing the file. In the latter case, an affected tenant would never hear from DHCR again and could presume for years that his or her case was still being processed. If DHCR issued an order closing the case, the tenant would presumably receive it and have an opportunity to administratively appeal.