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About Office of Rent Administration Operations and Services

Table of Contents


Introduction

A number of communities in New York State have rent regulation programs known as rent control and rent stabilization. These programs, administered by the Office of Rent Administration (ORA), position ORA as a leader in the preservation of affordable housing. Rent regulation is intended to protect tenants in privately-owned buildings from illegal rent increases and allow owners to maintain their buildings and realize a reasonable profit.

Rent control is the older of the two systems of rent regulation. It dates back to the housing shortage immediately following World War II and generally applies to buildings constructed before 1947. Rent stabilization generally covers buildings built after 1947 and before 1974, and apartments removed from rent control. Outside New York City rent stabilization is also known as ETPA, for the Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

These rent regulation programs were formerly administered separately in New York City and outside New York City. Starting April 1, 1984, however, in addition to administering rent regulation outside New York City, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) also became responsible for administering rent regulation in New York City. The Omnibus Housing Act of 1983 mandated the consolidation of all rent regulation under DHCR and also made other changes in the rent laws significantly affecting tenants and owners. What follows is a brief description of the major elements of rent control and rent stabilization in New York City and outside New York City, and highlights of those changes in the law which DHCR administers. More details on these matters can be obtained by calling, writing, or visiting one of the DHCR borough or district rent offices.


Rent Control and Rent Stabilization: Which apartments are covered?

Which apartments are under Rent Control?

The rent control program applies to residential buildings constructed before February, 1947 in municipalities that have not declared an end to the postwar rental housing emergency. There are several municipalities that still have rent control, including New York City, Albany, Erie, Nassau and Westchester counties.

Which apartments are under Rent Stabilization?

In New York City, apartments are under rent stabilization if they are in buildings of six or more units built between February 1, 1947, and December 31, 1973. Tenants in buildings built before February 1, 1947, who moved in after June 30, 1971, are also covered by rent stabilization. A third category of rent stabilized apartments covers buildings with three or more apartments constructed or extensively renovated on or after January 1, 1974 with special tax benefits. Generally, those buildings are only subject to stabilization while the tax benefits continue or, in some cases, until the tenant vacates.

Outside New York City, rent stabilization applies to non-rent controlled apartments in buildings of six or more units built before January 1, 1974, in the localities which have adopted ETPA in Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties. Some municipalities limit ETPA to buildings of a specific size- for instance, buildings with 20 or more units, or 100 or more, but in any event, not less than six.

What is High-Rent Vacancy Deregulation & High-Rent High-Income Deregulation?

For the past two decades, the Rent Laws have provided for the deregulation of apartments based on rents and occupant's incomes reaching certain levels.
The Rent Act of 2011 has modified these levels and now provides for the deregulation of apartments based on a rent level of $2,500 and an annual income level of $200,000, in certain conditions. Previously, the deregulation levels for rent and annual income, had been $2,000 and $175,000, respectively.

High-Rent Vacancy Deregulation

Effective June 24, 2011, if an apartment is vacant and the legal rent reaches $2,500 or more, such apartment qualifies for permanent deregulation and would no longer be subject to either rent stabilization or rent control. The Rent Code Amendments of 2014 require owners to provide the first tenant of a newly deregulated apartment with a DHCR promulgated notice detailing the last legal rent, the reason for deregulation and detailed calculations, including Individual Apartment Improvements and costs, of the rent qualifying for deregulation. In addition,  the owner must serve DHCR and the tenant with a DHCR  registration form indicating the deregulation.

High-Rent/High-Income Deregulation

Effective July 1, 2011, which essentially applies to the 2012 annual application cycle and beyond; in order for DHCR to issue an order of deregulation, the subject apartment must have had a legal rent of $2,500 or more and be occupied by persons whose total annual federal adjusted gross incomes as reported on their New York State Income Tax returns, have been in excess of $200,000 for each of the two preceding calendar years. The Rent Code Amendments of 2014 specify that recipients of SCRIE or DRIE certificates are exempt from this application process.

How does Rent Control work?

Rent control limits the rent an owner may charge for an apartment and restricts the right of any owner to evict tenants.

Rents charged in controlled apartments are set and adjusted on the basis of registrations filed by owners when Federal rent control was imposed in 1943. The rent control law allows DHCR to determine how much rents can be increased based on an assessment of what it costs owners to operate their buildings plus a reasonable profit.

In New York City, rent control operates under the Maximum Base Rent (MBR) system. A maximum base rent is established for each apartment and adjusted every two years to reflect changes in operating costs. Owners who certify that they are providing essential services and have removed violations, are entitled to raise rents up to 7.5 percent each year until they reach the MBR. Tenants may challenge the proposed increase on the grounds that the building has violations or that the owner's expenses do not warrant an increase.

For New York City rent controlled apartments, rents can also be increased because of increases in fuel costs (passalongs) and in some cases, to cover higher labor costs.

How does Rent Stabilization work?

Like rent control, rent stabilization also provides other protections to tenants besides limitations on the amount of rent. Tenants are entitled to receive required services, to have their leases renewed, and may not be evicted except on grounds allowed by law. Leases may be renewed for a term of one or two years, at the tenant's choice.

If a tenant's rights are violated, DHCR can reduce rents and levy civil penalties against the owner. Rents may be reduced if services are not maintained. In cases of overcharge, DHCR may assess penalties of interest or treble damages payable to the tenant.


Rent Registration

The Omnibus Housing Act required owners to initially register with DHCR, no later than June 30, 1984, the rents and services for all rent stabilized apartments occupied on April 1, 1984. Owners were required to send a copy of the registration to tenants, who had 90 days to challenge the information provided by the owner. If a tenant timely challenged the rent and the challenge was upheld, DHCR ordered a refund of any overcharges, plus interest, for a period of four years prior to the filing of the challenge and treble damages for a period of two years prior to the filing.

For apartments which become subject to rent stabilization after 1984, an owner is required to file an initial registration within 90 days after they become subject to rent stabilization. After the initial registration, owners must file an annual registration statement giving the April 1st rent for each unit and provide tenants with a copy. Owners who do not file initial or annual statements will not be eligible for rent increases and are subject to additional penalties.

However, under the Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1993, upon the service and filing of a late registration, an owner can not be found to have collected an overcharge for the period of non-registration, provided the increases in the rent were lawful except for the failure to file a timely registration. The penalty of treble damages can not be assessed against an owner based solely on that owner's failure to file a timely registration.


Rent Increases

The Rent Guidelines Boards (one in New York City and one each in Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland counties) set maximum allowable rates for rent increases in stabilized apartments. These guideline rates are set once a year and are effective for leases beginning on or after October 1st of each year. Pursuant to the Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1997, owners who sign vacancy leases are entitled to collect vacancy increases provided in the Act. These vacancy increases are described in DHCR's Fact Sheet #5, Fact Sheet #26 and Fact Sheet #31.

Both in New York City and the ETPA counties, rents can be increased during the lease period in any one of three ways, so long as the lease provides for the collection of an increase during the lease term: (1) with the written consent of the tenant in occupancy, if the owner increases services or equipment, or makes improvements to an apartment; (2) with DHCR approval, if the owner installs a building-wide major capital improvement; or (3) in cases of hardship with DHCR approval.


Rent Overcharges

For rent stabilized apartments, owners may be ordered to refund excess rent based on a finding of rent overcharge. A finding by DHCR of a willful rent overcharge by the owner may result in the assessment of treble damages payable to the tenant. In general, there is a retroactive four-year maximum on rent overcharge refunds, for complaints filed on or after April 1, 1984, and a two-year maximum on treble damages. The treble damage penalty was extended to New York City by the 1983 Omnibus Housing Act; it applies only to willful overcharges collected or for complaints filed on or after April 1, 1984. Outside New York City, ETPA provides for treble damages for willful or negligent overcharges. The Rent Code Amendments of 2014 do provide specific instances, including preferential rent situations, where the rental history going back more than four years may be examined to determine the legal rent.


Rent Reductions

Rents may be reduced if the owner fails to provide required or essential services, or fails to make necessary repairs for an individual apartment or building-wide. Examples of such conditions are lack of heat/hot water, unsanitary common areas (halls, lobby), and broken door locks. If a tenant receives a rent reduction from DHCR, and also receives another rent abatement or rent credit because of the same conditions, the tenant cannot get both benefits at the same time. The Rent Code Amendments of 2014 stipulate additional limitations on the collection of rent increases when a rent reduction is in effect.


Harassment

The law prohibits harassment of rent regulated tenants. Owners found guilty of intentional actions to force a tenant to vacate an apartment can be denied decontrol and lawful rent increases and may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties. Owners found guilty of tenant harassment for acts committed on or after July 19, 1997, are subject to fines of up to $5,000 for each violation. The Rent Code Amendments of 2014 expanded such course of conduct to include the filing of false documents with or making false statements to DHCR.


Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE)

Tenants who are disabled may also qualify for full exemption or partial exemption from rent increases. This applies to tenants in rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments or hotels in New York City, and to tenants in apartments regulated by rent control or ETPA in the municipalities outside of New York City that may authorize the exemption program. Tenants are considered disabled, and therefore eligible if they are a recipient (or former recipient, as described below) of benefits from any of the following programs:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Federal Social Security Act;
  • Disability Pension or Disability Compensation benefits as provided by the United State Department of Veteran Affairs; or
  • Medical Assistance benefits pursuant to NY State Social Service Law, and a former recipient of SSDI or SSI benefits.

To apply for DRIE, the tenant of a NYC rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment should write to the New York City Department of Finance, DRIE Exemptions, 19th Floor, 59 Maiden Lane, New York, New York 10038 or call the Citizen Service Center at 311.

The exemption program is administered by DHCR outside New York City. In Westchester county, DRIE has been adopted in the villages of Dobbs Ferry and Hastings on Hudson; the town of Greenburgh; and the cities of New Rochelle and Yonkers. Contact (914) 948-4434 to obtain an application form. Currently, no locality in Nassau county has adopted DRIE.


Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE)

Tenants who are 62 years or older may qualify for full exemption or partial exemption from rent increases. This applies to tenants in rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments or hotels in New York City, and to tenants in apartments regulated by rent control or ETPA in the municipalities outside of New York City that have authorized the exemption program. Senior citizens are eligible if: their incomes are (a) below a maximum limit set by local law; (b) they are paying at least one-third of their income for rent, and (c) for tenants in rent stabilized apartments, the tenant must have a valid one- or two-year lease.

The exemption program is administered by DHCR outside New York City. Outside NYC, please call (914) 948-4434 for more information. In New York City, it is administered by the New York City Department of Finance, 59 Maiden Lane, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10038. Tenants can also contact the Citizen Service Center at 311.

Municipalities in Nassau and Westchester counties which have authorized the SCRIE program:

Nassau County City of Glen Cove
  Town of North Hempstead
  Villages of Great Neck Plaza, Thomaston, Hempstead

Westchester County Cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains, Yonkers, Rye
  Towns of Greenburgh, Mamaroneck
  Villages of Mamaroneck, Tarrytown, Pleasantville, Larchmont,
Sleepy Hollow, Hastings-On-Hudson, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry


Services Provided by Rent Offices

DHCR Borough & District Rent Offices

The Borough & District Rent Office staff provides information and assistance to tenants and owners of rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments. Tenants may pick up complaint forms for overcharges, service reductions and other violations, and owners may receive applications for major capital improvement (MCI) and hardship increases. Informative Fact Sheets, Operational Bulletins, Policy Statements, and Advisory Opinions on numerous rent regulatory topics are also available. All of these are free of charge.

A special unit to assist small building owners is located at each of the Borough Rent Offices. The Small Building Owners Assistance Unit located at the Queens borough rent office, will help owners of 50 rental units or less in filling out registration forms, compliance with rent regulation requirements, and other record-keeping and financial matters.

Municipalities in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester Counties which have adopted the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 as of January 2008:

Nassau CountyCities ofGlen Cove, Long Beach
 Town ofNorth Hempstead
 Villages ofCedarhurst, Floral Park, Flower Hill, Freeport, Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Hempstead, Lynbrook, Mineola, North Hempstead-town (unincorporated), Rockville Centre, Russell Gardens, Thomaston, Baxter Estates

Rockland CountyTown ofHaverstraw
 Village ofSpring Valley

Westchester CountyCities of *Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains, Yonkers
 Towns ofEast Chester, Greenburgh, Harrison, Mamaroneck
 Villages ofCroton-Harmon, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Mt. Kisco, Pleasantville, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown

* By resolution of its City Council, Rye, New York adopted the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974, effective March 2, 2006.

Definitions of Rent Regulation Terms

Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 (ETPA) - This is the law that provides for rent stabilization in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties. For a building to be covered by ETPA, it must be located in a municipality that adopted the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. See Fact Sheet #8.

Fair Market Rent - The fair market rent is the rent charged the first stabilized tenant after the vacancy of a rent controlled tenant, subject to challenge in a Fair Market Rent Appeal. See Fact Sheet #6.

Fair Market Rent Appeal - A challenge to the first rent stabilized rent after rent control which must be filed within 90 days after the tenant receives the initial apartment registration. See Fact Sheet #6.

Fuel Cost Adjustment - A separate rent adjustment applied to rent controlled apartments only. This adjustment is based on fuel price changes during the prior year. The rent adjustment may go up or down depending on the price of various types of heating fuel. See Fact Sheet #23.

Harassment - A course of action intended to force a tenant out of his or her apartment or cause a tenant to give up rights granted to the tenant by the Rent Stabilization or Rent Control Laws. No owner, or owner's representative, may interfere with a tenant's privacy, comfort or quiet enjoyment of the tenant's apartment. See Fact Sheet #17.

Heat and Hot Water - By law owners must provide tenants with heat and hot water. See Fact Sheet #15.

Initial Apartment Registration - Registration that occurs when an apartment first becomes subject to the registration requirements of the rent stabilization law. A copy of the registration form must be served on the tenant.

Luxury Decontrol - Apartments can become deregulated in one of two ways if the rent is over $2,500. The first way is if the apartment becomes vacant with such a rent. The second is upon application by the owner, where the tenant(s) in occupancy have an annual income in excess of $200,000 per year for the two prior years.

Major Capital Improvement (MCI) - An MCI is a building wide improvement which is for the operation, preservation and maintenance of the structure, directly or indirectly benefits all tenants, involves a capital expenditure which is deemed depreciable by the Internal Revenue Service and meets the requirements set forth in the Agency's useful life schedule. To be eligible to collect a rent increase for an MCI, an owner must first apply to DHCR and obtain an order granting the rent increase. See Fact Sheet #11.

Maximum Base Rent (MBR) - A maximum base rent is established for each rent controlled apartment and is updated every two years to reflect changes in operating costs. See Fact Sheet #22.

Petition for Administrative Review (PAR) - An administrative appeal, filed by an owner or tenant, against an order issued by the Rent Administrator, which alleges errors in fact or application of the law. See Fact Sheet #18.

Rent Overcharge - A rent overcharge occurs when a tenant pays an amount of rent above the legal rent. Some allowable adjustments to a legal rent occur when a major capital improvement is approved, upon the renewal of a lease, or if an owner adds equipment or services with the tenant's consent. See Fact Sheet #16.

Rent Reduction - If an owner is not providing all required services, a tenant may file a complaint with DHCR seeking to have the services restored. If the Agency determines that the services have not been restored, the Agency will issue a service reduction order which may relate to an individual apartment or may be building-wide. In rent stabilized apartments the rent will be reduced by an amount equal to the most rent guideline increase. In rent controlled apartments, the rent is reduced by a dollar amount based on the nature of the condition or decrease in service. See Fact Sheet #14.

Rent Restoration - This is an application filed by the owner to restore rents that were reduced by a rent reduction order. It is filed after the services have been restored. If granted, the effective date in rent stabilization is based on the date of the owner's application; for rent controlled apartments, the effective date is prospective only from the first day of the month after the issuance of the order.

Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) - For more information, see Fact Sheet #21.

Service - Both the Rent Control and Rent Stabilization Laws require that the owner continue to provide all services provided on the base date, (generally the date the apartment became subject to regulations), as well as any services which are required by law. See Fact Sheet #3.

Sublet Apartment - Rent stabilized apartments are rented pursuant to a lease between an owner and a tenant. Under certain circumstances, a tenant may enter into a sublease with a new tenant (called the subtenant) for the rental of the apartment. The owner has the right to charge the prime tenant a sublet allowance during the period of sublet if the sublet occurs during a renewal lease term. The prime tenant (tenant who holds the lease with the owner) may pass this allowance onto the subtenant. The prime tenant may also charge the subtenant an additional 10% for the use of furniture. An apartment which is sublet continues to be under the jurisdiction of the rent stabilization law. The subtenant is protected from overcharges by the prime tenant and may file an overcharge complaint against the prime tenant if he or she feels a rent in excess of a legal rent is being collected. Generally the subtenant may not file such a complaint against the owner. See Fact Sheet #7.

Substantial Rehabilitation - A major reconstruction of the building, taking place after January 1, 1974, wherein at least 75% of the building-wide and apartment systems have been completely replaced with new systems. Upon completion of such work an apartment is no longer subject to regulation and market rents can be charged. See Operational Bulletin 95-2.

Succession - The ability of a tenant to "pass on" their regulated apartment to certain immediate family members. The family member may have the right to succeed to the tenancy provided the family member's primary residence has been with the tenant for two years or since the inception of the relationship. See Fact Sheet #30.

Treble Damages - Treble damages refers to a penalty of three times the dollar amount of an overcharge that is payable to the tenant. This penalty, imposed by an order of DHCR, is assessed against an owner when he or she willfully collects any rent in excess of the legal regulated rent.

For more information see the Rent Administration Fact Sheets

Last updated on 05/13/14