Last week’s dramatic re-writing of the laws covering rented apartments around the state will soon fade from the headlines, but landlords and tenants will operate for years on the landscape the 2019 rent bill has reshaped. Exactly how the letter of that legislation translates into reality will depend in large part on how the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal publicizes and enforces the law.
DHCR has been at the center of rent regulation for 35 years, since the city handed over most enforcement of rent stabilization to Albany. In that time, it’s come in for criticism from tenant groups and property owners’ organizations alike. The tenant side has accused the agency of rubber-stamping landlords’ requests to hike rents to cover major capital improvements. Property owners have lambasted the division for processing delays, and at least one landlord has sued the agency to block its inspectors from visiting his property, claiming they lacked standing to do so.
DHCR has defended its performance – pointing in particular to the formation of a Tenant Protection Unit during the Cuomo administration that cracked down on landlords who were illegally de-regulating apartments or making fraudulent IAI (individual apartment improvement) rent increases.
But there’s no denying DHCR has fewer resources to work with than it did just a few years ago. State budget records indicate the agency’s budget headcount has fallen from 950 in 2006-2007 to just 682 in 2018-2019.
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The budget for the current fiscal year has DHCR going up to a staff of 776. According to budget division spokesman Freeman Klopott, the budget for the Office of Rent Administration and the Tenant Protection Unit within DHCR will rise from $41 million to $64 million and add 94 full time employees “demonstrating the State’s commitment to protecting tenants.”
Budgeted headcount might not reflect DHCR’s actual person-power, however. As of now, according to the office of the state comptroller, the agency has 597 active employees—well below what was budgeted last year or this year.
That lower-than-budgeted staffing is likely part of the reason why the DHCR workforce handling important tasks related to rent regulations is stretched pretty thin. DHCR says it has 10 inspectors who perform 4,200 inspections a year across the eight-county region in which rent-stabilization laws now apply: the five boroughs along with Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties—an area spanning 1,192 square miles, which is about as big as the state of Rhode Island.
A DHCR spokeswoman tells City Limits, “The new rent laws strengthen tenant protections for New Yorkers, and we look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature and other stakeholders as we implement them.”
DHCR says if a tenant believes that an MCI hike is wrong, they should file a Petition for Administrative Review form within 35 days of the issuance of the order by contacting the Office of Rent Administration at 718-739-6400.