Are You Being Overcharged?
Here is exactly how it works. You can find out whether you are overcharged by taking your lease to your county’s office of DHCR (Division of Housing and Community Renewal). Click here for a list of DHCR offices in your area. At DHCR you will receive a rent history for your apartment. The rent history lists every increase claimed by your landlord, going back many years. If your rent history looks suspicious, DHCR staff will often advise you to file an overcharge complaint with DHCR right away. I advise you not to do this unless your statute of limitations is about to expire. Instead, take the rent history to your lawyer for review.
The most important thing to understand when you look at the rent history is that it is based on information provided by the landlord, and DHCR does not look at the rent history until someone files a complaint. That means that the increases listed in the rent history may turn out to be illegal.
You are being overcharged if the rent increases exceed what is allowed by law. The amount of allowable increases varies from year to year, but generally they are set at between 4% and 7.5%.
However, lease renewal increases are only one type of rent increase; there are several more, including vacancy increases, fuel cost adjustments, hardship increases, major capital improvements and individual apartments increases, depending on the circumstances. Your attorney will be able to assess each increase for its legality.
The most dramatic overcharges usually occur, not when the tenant’s lease is renewed, but when the tenant first moves into an apartment. Generally the landlord can only charge a new tenant a vacancy increase over the prior rent stabilized tenant of at most 20%. Since you may not have known the prior tenant, and therefore, might not have known what your predecessor paid in rent, some landlords cannot resist increasing the rent 50% or even 100%.