How to Challenge Your Rent

 Under the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, rent-stabilized tenants and those living in apartments that were deregulated by high-rent vacancy decontrol can now challenge whether their current rent is legal, by going back to the last “reliable” registration, with no time limit. 

As many as 100,000 tenants or more may have valid overcharge claims, given the questionable practices landlords used to raise rents when there was virtually no oversight because the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) was asleep at the wheel. If successful, they will often see substantial reductions in their rent, triple damages for every dollar of overcharge for the preceding six years, and—if the apartment was illegally deregulated—all of the protections of the rent-stabilization law.

Challenging your rent is fairly easy. The first step is to get a copy of the rent history for your apartment. The second step is meeting with an advocate or attorney who can help determine if there is a valid basis to challenge the rent. The third step is to choose the forum you want to have your overcharge claim heard in—DHCR or court.

Step 1: Get Your Rent History

To request a rent history, call or email HCR’s Office of Rent Administration: 718-739-6400 or rentinfo@nyshcr.org or go in person to the office for your borough. You will need to bring a copy of your lease to show that you are the tenant.

Bronx: 2400 Halsey St., 1st floor; Phone: (718) 430-0880.

Brooklyn: 55 Hanson Place, Room 702; Phone: (718) 722-4778.

Manhattan (Uptown): Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Office Building, 163 West 125th St., 5th floor; Phone: (212) 961-8930.

Manhattan (Downtown): 25 Beaver St., 5th floor; Phone: (212) 480-6238.

Queens: Gertz Plaza, 92-31 Union Hall St., Jamaica; Phone: (718) 739-6400.

Step Two: Review the Rent History With an Advocate or Attorney

Once you have the rent history, you should contact Met Council or one of the dozens of community groups and elected officials who are helping tenants understand and enforce their rights, and arrange to meet with an advocate or attorney to review the rent history. Because the new law allows you to look back for up to 20 or more years to find an illegal increase, and there are so many ways landlords raised rents illegally between 1993 and 2019, only someone very familiar with the law will be able to spot unreliable registrations and increases which cannot be justified. 

Among the things to look for in a rent history are:

• Any increase more than what the Rent Guidelines Board allowed that year. Those percentages can be found at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/rentguidelinesboard/rent-guidelines/apartment-loft-orders-explanatory-statements.page.

• Years when the apartment’s rent was not registered.

• Increases identified as IMPRV (improvements) or MCI (major capital improvement).

• Rents registered as PREF (preferential rents). In many cases, landlords made up a “legal” rent and then gave tenants a “preferential rent” discount, which they would later revoke (when that was legal). But if the higher rent was not legitimate, the preferential rent was the legal rent at that time.

• Increases for years no tenant is listed.

Step Three: Choose Your Forum

If you determine that you have a valid overcharge claim, there are three ways you can have it determined.

The first is by filing an overcharge complaint with HCR at https://rent.hcr.ny.gov/RentConnect/Tenant/RentOverchargeOverview.

The advantage of this route is that it is free and avoids the burdens of going to court. The disadvantage is that historically HCR has done a poor job interpreting and enforcing rent laws. However, part of the HSTPA is increased funding for HCR staff as well as oversight of how well the agency is enforcing the law. Met Council and the broader Housing Justice For All campaign have begun monitoring how HCR interprets and enforces the new, stronger laws, so tenants who file overcharge complaints should let us know how it progresses.

The second way to assert an overcharge claim in Housing Court, either if you are already being sued by your landlord in a summary nonpayment or holdover proceeding, or by withholding your rent and waiting for a nonpayment proceeding to be brought. Because of the “blacklist” maintained by tenant-screening agencies, however, people who have been sued in Housing Court face difficulties finding new apartments. Also, because almost all landlords are represented by lawyers in Housing Court, tenants claiming an overcharge will be at a big disadvantage unless they have a lawyer. (Access through Legal Aid and other legal services is expanding under the city’s right-to-counsel law.)

The third way to assert an overcharge claim is by suing your landlord in state Supreme Court. This will generally require hiring a private attorney, but if your lease has an attorneys’ fees clause and you win the case, your landlord may end up paying your legal fees, as well as triple damages and a rent reduction.

This Queens tenant’s rent history shows that the landlord raised the “legal” rent from $653 to $5,000 a month in 2004-05, but gave the next tenant a “preferential rent” of $653. It also shows that the landlord did not register the rent for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.
This Queens tenant’s rent history shows that the landlord raised the “legal” rent from $653 to $5,000 a month in 2004-05, but gave the next tenant a “preferential rent” of $653. It also shows that the landlord did not register the rent for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.