New DHCR Policy Discourages Tenant Service Complaints

Governor Pataki’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal has found a way to curb tenants from filing complaints of a lack of services.

Starting March 1, it will require tenants filing either Form RA-81, Application for a Rent Reduction Based Upon Decreased Services,Individual Apartment, and RA-84, Application for a Rent Reduction Based Upon Decreased Building-wide Services to simultaneously file proof that they sent a letter notifying their landlord of the conditions that are raised in the complaint.

Prior to this change, the tenant was under no obligation to notify the landlord before filing a complaint. In fact, many tenants found a DHCR filing an effective way to compel their landlords to make repairs.

When a tenant wins a service-reduction case at DHCR, the agency must reduce the rent, and the rent stays frozen until the landlord restores the services and gets an application to have the rent restored approved. The amount of rent reduction can be substantial; rent-stabilized tenants’ rents are reduced to the level in effect prior to the effective date of the DHCR order, and rent-controlled tenants’ rents are reduced by an amount on a schedule of values.

DHCR takes one to two years to process a tenant’s service-reduction complaint. As the process is so slow, the landlord has plenty of time to correct the conditions complained of and avoid losing the case. Because this is true, DHCR can only mean to discourage tenants from filing service complaints.

The new DHCR policy on prior notice to the landlord will not apply to complaints of lack of heat and hot water, emergency repairs, and cases where the tenant has vacated temporarily owing to fire. The proof DHCR now requires is a copy of the letter to the landlord, plus a receipt from sending it by certified mail, a copy of the green return receipt for certified mail, or proof that the tenant has signed the mailing certification on the complaint form. The new complaint forms are not yet available.

The rent laws say that DHCR has a duty to process tenants’ complaints, but have no requirement that tenants must first notify their landlords. Line 5 of the forms in use since 1993 asks tenants if, when, and how the landlord was notified, but did not require notification.

Tenants must file with DHCR in the period 10 to 60 days after the date of their letter to the landlord. DHCR states that complaints filed without the new notification requirements will be rejected, which means that the tenant must refile with the required proof.

This new policy is an example of DHCR’s compliance with the Pataki Administration’s intent to get rid of rent regulation and tenant protections any way they can.