Rent stabilization complaints piling up at agency

State office takes up to 4 years to resolve disputed rent hikes

Commissioner of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal's RuthAnne Visnauskas
Commissioner of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal's RuthAnne Visnauskas (Getty, NY Gov)

Rent-stabilized tenants can complain about improper rate hikes to the Office of Rent Administration. They shouldn’t expect a quick resolution, though.

The agency is facing a massive backlog of such complaints, the New York Daily News reported. The agency tasked with investigating landlords is so far behind that some cases have lingered for four years.

The rent in rent-stabilized apartments can rise no more than the limit set by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board, barring improvements made to the building or unit. In those instances, the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal — which oversees the Office of Rent Administration — still needs to approve the increases.

Tenants sometimes have a bone to pick with how reported improvements affected their rent, but even if they know where to report it, they could be priced out before the agency resolves their complaint, according to the News.

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The agency declined to discuss the specifics of the backlog with the publication, but confirmed that office closures and court delays related to Covid are leading to fewer cases being processed.

In a story unfolding at other city and state agencies, staffing numbers are likely playing a part in the backlog. Only 27 employees at ORA are processing complaints, which total more than 20,000 each year.

Tenants have been forced to take matters into their own hands. Last year, the Housing Rights Initiative, a tenant advocacy group, secured a $1 million settlement for Bronx renters who inked market-rate leases, despite the landlord benefitting from the J-51 tax break, which requires rents be stabilized. The tenants were entitled to up to $100,000 in refunds, rent reductions and a return to rent stabilization.

After the settlement, the advocacy group’s founder, Aaron Carr, called on the governor to overhaul the housing enforcement agency. In a rebuttal, HCR said that its rent unit had conducted “hundreds of investigations, returned more than 89,000 units to regulation and recovered over $6 million in overcharges for tenants.”

Holden Walter-Warner