Tenants Win $137,000 Overcharge Award

After eight years of struggle with both their landlord and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, David and Dorothy Harman of Manhattan finally prevailed over both and won an overcharge award of $137,484.The Harmans’ original complaint was denied in 1990 because DHCR found no overcharge, apparently overlooking that the landlord had failed to register their West Side apartment since 1985. The tenants filed a request for reconsideration in 1991 and convinced DHCR that their original order “was not properly processed.” In 1994, the landlord failed to respond to two DHCR notices regarding the penalties for failing to register the apartment and failing to submit a rental history for it.

DHCR found the landlord’s neglect willful, and awarded the Harmans $50,448.80 treble damages and $22,789.48 interest on an overcharge of 48,381.60. Treble damages on the whole overcharge would have brought the total award much higher, but the tenants were only eligible to collect them on part of the overcharge because of the rule that a tenant may not collect damages on the portion of an overcharge paid more than two years before they filed their complaint.

The tenants stopped paying rent in 1988, at the time they filed their complaint. By the time the reconsideration order was issued last month, they had exhausted the entire amount of the award living rent-free. In usual DHCR fashion, the order contradicts itself by freezing the rent for the 10 years the apartment wasn’t registered at $1,391.54, but elsewhere says that the rent for that same period was $1,447.20. Also, the rent-calculation chart grants a lease-renewal rent increase despite the fact that the order freezes the rent.

In a final mystery, DHCR’s order states that “no overcharge exists” because the tenant had already used the full amount awarded as credit for their rent. All overcharged tenants should be so lucky as to win a finding that “no overcharge exists” of $137,484.