City settles federal lawsuit over rent freeze program

Seniors and disabled tenants whose relatives died will receive $130K from city

Mar.March 09, 2016 11:01 AM

The city settled a federal lawsuit filed by elderly and disabled tenants who said they lost their rent subsidy after family members died. It agreed to pay $130,000 for legal fees and damages to 10 plaintiffs, whose ages ranged from 27 to 95.

In 2014, the Department of Finance, which oversees the rent freeze program, enacted a rule that tenants have 60 days to reapply for the program after the person receiving the benefit died.

Prior to this rule, family members had up to six months to apply, the New York Times reported.

The rent freeze program includes the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE), which halts rent hikes for seniors in rent-regulated units, and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

Last June, the tenants along with Public Advocate Letitia James, filed a lawsuit to challenge the new rule and for alleged rent overcharges, Gothamist reported.

One of the plaintiffs, Qiao Xiao, said her rent increased from $523 to up to $790 after her husband died in 2014, according to Gothamist. Qiao Xiao He and two other plaintiffs died before the suit concluded. Their portion of the settlement, which amounts to $5,000 and $6,000 per tenant, will go to their estates, Gothamist reported.

The city will pay $75,000 for the tenants’ legal fees.

Despite pushback, James has used lawsuits as a means to push the city for change. Following the passage of a state law in December, relatives again have six months to apply.

Nearly 80,000 seniors who qualify for the rental assistance program have not signed up. [NYT and Gothamist]Dusica Sue Malesevic

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