6 Things to Know About the New NYC Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act
by Christopher Schwartz, Esq. February 11, 2020
In June of 2019, a sweeping set of changes were signed into the laws affecting virtually every tenant of a rental unit in New York City. Known collectively as the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (“HSTPA”), these changes were made with the purpose of moving renters closer to sustainable, affordable housing.
The Legal Hotline at the City Bar Justice Center receives thousands of calls a year on landlord tenant law and renter’s rights. What kind of questions have we seen on the Hotline about the new law? What controversies or gray areas need to be addressed?
1. Rent regulation is now permanent
The most reliably affordable rents in New York City were found in rent regulated (subject to rent stabilization or rent control) apartments. Before the HSTPA was passed, property owners had many tools at their disposal to remove apartments from regulation, such as performing expensive renovations to vacant apartments – or saying they had. Often the agency that investigates unlawful deregulation claims, the Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), was unwilling to second guess the owners. But loopholes in the law have now been closed, and rent increases from renovations have been curtailed.
The Hotline fields dozens of calls a year from tenants whose rent is sometimes suspiciously one or two thousand dollars more a month than what the last rent regulated tenant in their apartment was paying. It is now much more likely DHCR will investigate claims of overcharge and unlawful deregulation, and we expect that fewer owners will find an incentive to falsify rent records since rent regulation is now permanent.
2. Preferential rents are now permanent, too
One of the more confusing concepts for tenants to understand was preferential rent. Rent stabilized tenants were often surprised to learn that they could still experience large and unexpected jumps in their monthly rent if the owner properly decided not to renew their lower preferential rents. After all, what good is rent stabilization when it isn’t keeping rents stable and predictable?
Rent stabilized tenants can no longer lose their preferential rents during the course of their tenancies – there is no longer an opportunity for a landlord to ‘bait and switch’. Tenants can now be assured that their base rents will not unexpectedly jump to an amount much higher than the increase set annual by the Rent Guidelines Board. This new law makes rents more truly stable over time for our callers.
3. Application fees/broker’s fees have been brought under control
The HSTPA doesn’t just protect rent regulated housing. It has reshaped the rules for all rental housing in New York. Another frequent problem the Hotline gets calls about is how expensive it is to secure an apartment. In the past, an applicant might be expected to come up with first and last month’s rent, broker’s fees, another month minimum for security, and various application fees for credit checks and background checks, all of which quickly added up. For a person scraping together enough money to afford to move, we didn’t have much in the way of good news.
Now, owners are limited to taking only one month’s rent for security. They are prohibited from asking for first and last month’s rent in any rental unit. If the broker was hired by the landlord to rent the apartment, the broker may not charge the tenant a broker’s fee. The broker’s fee regulation is being challenged in the courts as we write this piece, so stay tuned for the outcome of this heated litigation. And those vague, incidental application fees which could often add a hundred dollars or more and which many brokers and owners argued were nonrefundable are now capped at a maximum of twenty dollars.
4. Market rate apartments have to follow other new rules
The owners of unregulated apartments aren’t limited by what rate of increase they may take when it comes time to renew a lease, nor do they even need to offer a lease renewal at all. But under the HSTPA, tenants in market rate apartments now must be given advance notice for any rent increases over 5% or if they plan not to offer a renewal (30 days’ notice if they’ve been tenants for less than a year, 60 days for more than a year but less than two, and 90 days for more than two years). Late fees of more than 5% of the monthly rent or $50, whichever is less, are impermissible.
5. Dismantling the Blacklist
The Tenant Blacklist is always of great concern to our callers. Behind the scenes, it is a series of reporting services that purchase the names of all tenants who have had eviction cases brought against them in housing court, and then sell checks against those names to prospective landlords for a service fee. Callers are always worried that a single bad unfortunate experience with a landlord can forever mar their ability to get a new apartment.
The HSTPA bans the selling of tenant names, and further prohibits landlords from denying applicants an apartment based solely on their status as a respondent in an eviction proceeding. On the surface, this is a full defusing of the Tenant Blacklist. However, the HSTPA doesn’t go so far as to give rejected applicants the right to sue landlords who violate this ban, leaving enforcement up to the Office of the Attorney General. So while this is cause for optimism, we still caution our callers that we can’t tell exactly what the future of blacklisting might hold.
6. Procedural and court changes
Finally, the HSTPA includes a slew of changes in the way eviction cases are being processed in housing court, many of which vastly improve the time tenants are given to be made aware of and respond, strengthen the defenses available to them, and give them better opportunities to avoid or lessen the impact of eviction. Such broad changes to the law have certainly kept the Legal Hotline attorneys on their toes, but it isn’t often that we have such an abundance of good news and additional rights to share when it comes to obtaining and keeping safe, stable housing in New York City.
Christopher Schwartz is the Deputy Director of the Legal Hotline.
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