State Comptroller McCall Issues Audit Of DHCR Overcharge Unit

As Tenant goes to press, state Comptroller H. Carl McCall has issued an audit of the processing of overcharge cases at the Division of Housing and Community Renewal from April 1, 1992 through March 31, 1996.

The audit also contains DHCR’s response to it. Side by side, the two demonstrate the split between the classically liberal and conservative views of the role of government in the lives of New York State citizens. Unfortunately for tenants, DHCR’s conservative approach is sure and relentless, while the liberal side is unsure and weak.

For example, the audit urges DHCR to eliminate its backlog of more than 30,000 overcharge cases by closing the cases of tenants who do not respond to a wake-up letter from the agency. DHCR implemented this policy over a year ago. This essentially pins the fate of an apartment’s rent on whether the tenant is to be found at the exact time the wake-up letter is delivered, not on whether there is an overcharge or not. This shift-the-burden-to-the-tenant policy contributes to the gutting of rent regulation.

Under state law, DHCR’s duty is to determine whether there is an overcharge, not to find ways not to do that job. The law also says that DHCR shall join any affected tenant to an overcharge proceeding when the complaining tenant vacates. Instead, it closes the case. Landlord wins; tenants lose.

The audit thoroughly documents the interminable delays in the processing of overcharge complaints. Over half lie fallow for three years, and many others are not dealt with for much longer. Yet it makes no attempt to compare the Overcharge Unit’s production standards and staffing levels to any other DHCR unit, to see if overcharged tenants were being unfairly deprived of agency resources.

Tenant reported three years ago (“DHCR: No Time for Tenants,” January 1994) that DHCR was giving the MCI Unit, which wins rent increases for landlords, about eight times the resources that it was giving the Overcharge Unit. Met Council gave a copy of that report to the Comptroller’s investigators, but the audit treats the Overcharge Unit in isolation.

The audit also mysteriously fails to discredit DHCR for violating the law by not issuing a report on its processing statistics to the State Legislature and New York citizens since Governor Pataki took power. It was the last such report that provided Met Council with the ammunition to assess the unfairness of DHCR’s staff allocations. We will report more on this audit,and DHCR’s arrogant reply,in future issues.