Reports to the People
Brennan Bill Would Impose One-Year Moratorium on Mortgage Foreclosures in New York
As the subprime lending crisis damages both New York’s and the nation’s economy, foreclosures on homes are rising. In February 2008, 4950 homes entered into foreclosure in New York State; nearly two-thirds were in New York City. There were 50,000 foreclosure actions in the State last year, and at the current rate, there will be 180,000 foreclosures in New York by the end of 2009. There were 2000 foreclosure actions in Flatbush last year and 40% of all foreclosures in New York State are taking place in Brooklyn and Queens. My office, along with 73 other members of the Assembly, has introduced a bill to impose a one-year moratorium on foreclosures in New York.
Once a lender has established their right to a foreclosure, a court would hold off issuing an order of foreclosure for up to one year. The homeowner would have to make a court-determined minimum payment during that time. The purpose would be to encourage settlement negotiations between the two parties that would lead to a modification of the terms of the loan to enable the borrower to keep their home.
The real solution to the problem is for the Federal government, working with responsible lenders, to intervene. There are proposals to allow the Federal mortgage agencies to buy out high-cost loans. Other proposals in New York seek to end predatory lending, forcing banks to make sure borrowers can repay loans, halting fraudulent appraisals and other deceptive practices.
Rent Controlled or Rent Stabilized
Your apartment is probably rent controlled if your building was constructed before 1947, contains three or more apartments, and you moved in before July 1, 1971, although there are exceptions.
Your apartment is probably rent stabilized if your building contains at least six apartments and was constructed between 1947 and 1973, or was built before 1947 and you moved in after June 30, 1971. There is normally no rent stabilization for buildings constructed on or after January 1, 1974 unless the building has been assisted by tax exemptions.
How Can I Find Out?
The Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) administers the Rent Stabilization and Rent Control systems. Landlords are required to register the rents and services of all stabilized apartments with DHCR’s Office of Rent Administration and serve a copy of the apartment’s registration statement to each tenant. You can call the DHCR hotline at 718-739-6400 to find out if your apartment is rent controlled or rent stabilized and to request a rental history. You may ask DHCR to review your apartment’s rental history by filing an overcharge complaint form with DHCR. Overcharge complaint forms are available from the local DHCR office at 55 Hanson Place, online at www.dhcr.state.ny.us, or from my community office at 718-788-7221. DHCR will be able to check that all increases in rent were proper and, if necessary, will order a readjustment in your rent. You should be aware that your landlord will receive a copy of your overcharge complaint.
If your apartment is Rent Stabilized
The rent increase guidelines for rent stabilized apartments are established annually and apply to leases entered into between October 1 and the following September 30. They provide increases for one or two year renewal. The Rent Stabilization law provides a formula for calculating the rent for a vacancy lease. Special guidelines apply to apartments which were formerly rent controlled and are being rented to the first rent stabilized tenant. Special provisions are often made for loft dwelling units, low rent units, rent stabilized hotel units and other unusual circumstances.
Can I have a roommate?
When you sign a lease, if you are the only named tenant, you are entitled to share your apartment with immediate family, one additional occupant who is not a member of your immediate family and any dependent children of that occupant. These provisions are applicable to all leases, regardless of any lease provisions to the contrary.
What are my rights when I renew my lease?
Except in limited cases, you have a right to have your lease renewed when it expires if you live in a rent stabilized apartment. The landlord must offer to renew your lease 120 to 150 days before it expires. You then have 60 days in which to accept. If the landlord is late in making the renewal offer, you have the right to remain in your apartment at the same rent until he/she has made an offer and you have had 60 days in which to respond. You have the right to renew your lease for one or two years, depending upon your preference.
When you renew, your new lease must be on the same terms and conditions as the previous lease, except for the rent increase. Leases signed after September 1975 cannot prohibit you from subletting, even if you are renewing a previous lease which contained such a provision. However, special procedures must be carefully followed if you wish to sublet your apartment. For more information about subletting, please call my community office at 718-788-7221.
How much security deposit do I need to give?
Security deposits of no more than one month’s rent may be retained by your landlord. In most cases, any additional security deposit taken by the landlord must be refunded. However, for some rent stabilized tenants, if you deposited more than one month’s rent before the apartment became regulated, you may be required to maintain a greater security deposit. If your building has more than six apartments, the owner must place the security deposit in an interest-bearing account and pay interest at the prevailing rate minus a service charge of one percent of the security deposit.
How To Make A Housing Complaint
Your landlord is required by law to maintain your building, keep your apartment in good repair and maintain essential services including heat and hot water.
If your landlord fails to respond to your complaint, write your landlord or his agent by certified mail, return receipt requested. Always keep copies of your correspondence.
Call the City’s Citizen Service Center at 311 to reach the HPD Central Complaint Bureau, (for hearing impaired, 212-504-4115) or write by certified mail, return receipt requested.
An inspector from the Complaint Bureau will be sent to verify and classify the violations. Class A violations (nonhazardous) must be corrected in 90 days; Class B violations (hazardous) must be corrected in 30 days; and Class C violations (immediately hazardous, including lack of heat and hot water) within 24 hours. These time frames are initiated when the landlord receives notice from the City of the verified violation. The City’s Emergency Repair Program may repair a Class C violation and bill the landlord. Tenants can ask about the status of emergency repair work in their apartments by calling 212-863-5510.
After inspection, if violations were recorded, the landlord gets a copy of the violations and must certify they have been corrected within the appropriate time period. The City should then send you a copy of the landlord’s certification. If improperly certified, the City can re-inspect your apartment and take the landlord to Housing Court to force compliance.
Seek a rent reduction: If you are rent controlled or rent stabilized, you may file a service complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) District Rent Office, which will investigate. If your complaint is found to be valid, the landlord will be ordered to reduce rent until the condition is corrected. Service complaint forms are available online at www.dhcr.state.ny.us or from my office at 718-788-7221.
Go to Housing Court
Even while waiting for the City to act upon your complaint, you can take it to Housing Court: immediately (as in emergencies); 30 days after making your complaint (if the city has not sent an inspector and recorded violations); or if the City has recorded violations and the landlord’s time to repair them has expired.
To file your petition, pay a $45 fee at the clerk’s office in the Housing Part of Civil Court. This fee can be waived if the tenant cannot afford to pay. Legal help is not required, but is advisable.
If conditions are dangerous, one third of the tenants in a building can jointly ask the court to appoint someone to collect rents and make repairs. This is called an Article 7-A proceeding and usually requires legal help.
You can obtain a list of the outstanding recorded violations in your building for free by writing to the Housing Part of the Civil Court, 111 Centre Street, NYC, NY 10013. To find the name and address of your landlord or his agent, contract the Registration Division of the Office of Rent and Housing Maintenance, Division of Code Enforcement at 212-863-7000.
Other Actions To Think About
Can I withhold the rent?
If there are serious violations the landlord has failed to correct, repeated efforts have been made through HPD and with the help of my office, this action may be considered, but only after consulting attorney or tenants organization. The following is a general synopsis of what this action would entail.
Notify your landlord by certified mail, return receipt requested, that you intend to withhold your rent unless specific repairs are made. If no repairs are made and your landlord is unresponsive, continue to notify your landlord and withhold rent. Set aside your rent money to pay the back rent immediately if the court orders you to do so. This is very important because in many cases the law requires tenants to deposit their rent into court accounts. The landlord will probably bring action in Housing Court to evict you for nonpayment. If you receive such a notice, don’t panic, but act quickly. You will only have five days to file an answer in court and you will probably need legal help.
Once in court, your defense is the landlord’s refusal to make repairs. If the judge agrees, repairs can be ordered. The judge may permit you to keep all or part of the rent money or direct you to deposit the rent money with the court. If the court decides the problem is not severe enough to justify withholding rent, you will have to pay the back rent or be evicted. You may also be required to pay the landlord’s court costs and legal fees.
Can I make repairs myself and deduct the cost from the rent?
Another tactic is to make emergency repairs and then either deduct the cost from the rent or sue the landlord in Small Claims Court to recover the costs. You must keep records of your attempts to contact the landlord and of your expenses. This procedure is risky and involves some unresolved legal issues. Do this only after conferring with an attorney or an experienced tenants’ organization. Again, the landlord may evict you for nonpayment of rent.
In addition, tenants can purchase fuel when the landlord fails to provide heat (you must follow specific procedures set in the law). If that occurs, the amount paid by each tenant can be deducted from the rent.
From October 1 to May 31, your landlord must provide heat. If the temperature outside is below 55 degrees, your apartment must be heated to at least 68 degrees. At night, if the temperature outside is below 40 degrees, your apartment must be heated to at least 55 degrees. If your landlord fails to provide heat or hot water, keep a detailed daily record of this lack of service. For lack of heat, be sure to record the temperature outside and inside. If your records are to be submitted as evidence of lack of service, be sure to keep copies for yourself.
The law now allows tenants to purchase fuel for themselves when the landlord fails to provide heat. The amount paid by each tenant can then be deducted from the monthly rent payment. An application enabling you to do this can be obtained from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Be sure to follow the procedure set forth in the application.
Are there any special exemptions for senior citizens?
Senior citizens may be eligible for rent increase exemptions. If you are at least 62, live in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment, and pay more than one- third of your income for rent, you may be eligible for a rent increase exemption, depending on your income. Currently, your household income must be no more than $27,000 a year. This income amount includes social security benefits but not income and social security taxes. When you receive the exemption, in most cases your rent will be frozen at its level at the time of your application. You must recertify the exemption every 2 years. Applications for the rent exemption are available at my community office and at most senior citizens centers. When it is time for benefit renewal, the city should automatically mail you an application 30 days in advance.
Are there any special exemptions for disabled tenants?
Disabled tenants may also be eligible for a rent increase exemption, called Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). If you (1) live in a rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment, (2) receive SSI, SSDI, a Veterans Disability pension or disability-related Medicaid, (3) had an income in 2007 under $18,396 per year (individual) or $26,460 (household), and (4) spend more than one-third of your household income on rent, you are eligible for DRIE. The DRIE program is administered by the NYC Department of Finance. Applications are available from my office (718-788-7221) or online at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/pdf/08pdf/drie_instructions.pdf
|The legislature recently elected Dr. Lester Young, former superintendent of District 13, to the New York State Board of Regents. I am joined by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Dan Holt, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Young and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.|
Federal income tax returns are due April 15. Only persons who file a return will qualify to receive the economic stimulus payment from the Federal government. For those who regularly file a return, this is not a problem. But it is an issue for certain Social Security recipients, railroad retirees, those receiving benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and taxpayers with income below a certain level that are ordinarily exempt from filing a return. However, those with at least $3000 of qualifying income who file may be eligible for a $300 payment ($600 on a joint return).
You must file a Form 1040A by October 15 if you do not file any other federal tax forms. If you want more information on the economic stimulus payment, please call my community office at 718-788-7221.