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The ANHD Blog raises the profile of our issues, and educates our member groups, city decision makers, and the general public on our core issue areas. The ANHD Blog offers sharp, timely and effective commentary on key public policy issues, as well as our work and the work of our member groups.

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Making Affordable Housing Unaffordable

September 17, 2013

NY Times on exposé by CASA & Urban Justice Center of "non-rent" fees.    

Tenants and organizers have long denounced aggressive tactics that landlords of rent-regulated buildings use to drive up rents beyond the annual contractual increases.  ANHD's report, The $20,000 Stove exposes how landlords can too often abuse the "individual apartment improvement" rent increase loophole by charging a rental increase far above the value of actual  improvements. This loophole is a major tool used to price vacant apartments out of the rent stabilization program. Many ANHD members have also tracked Major Capital Improvements (MCI) charges that can dramatically drive up the rent for an entire building when landlords pass on the cost of building improvements.  Both of these systems lack appropriate oversight and can be extremely difficult to challenge. But there are many other charges landlords unfairly pass on to tenants.  Tenant organizers in the Bronx have documented the wide range of non-rent fees landlords charge and the impact they have on affordable housing.  The problem is particularly acute in buildings managed by Chestnut Holdings, a company that is fast becoming a major landlord of rent stabilized buildings in the Bronx.  In a new report,  The Burden of Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable, CASA (Community Action for Safe Apartments) of New Settlement Apartments and the Urban Justice Center surveyed and collected data from over 250 tenants in Chestnut Holdings buildings and found that 81% of the tenants had been charged some sort of non-rent fee, averaging $671.13 each.  Fees range from $5 - $25 per month for air conditioners and washing machines, to hundreds of dollars for MCI or damage fees, and into the thousands of dollars for legal fees. Some fees are legal, others are not, but a lack of knowledge of the laws, fear of eviction, and the labyrinthine system to challenge fees leave tenants few options but to pay the fees or fear retribution.  Chestnut Holdings exploits this in their attempts to drive out lower-rent paying tenants and raise the rents further. As the report points out, there are specific actions our government can take to address this situation.  The State Housing agency, Housing and Community Renewal (HCR), should proactively audit landlords suspected of violating regulations, clarify regulations and provide fact sheets for tenants to understand the fees and how to challenge them, and collaborate with tenants and advocates to identify and monitor the worst offenders.  The Housing Court administration should also take proactive steps to ensure the fees are being properly charged and that tenants are made aware of their rights. And, tenants should be aware of their rights under the Tenant Protection Act and file a harassment suit in housing court to stop the illegal fees when they become part of a pattern of harassment.
 

Blogger - Jaime Weisberg

ANHD blog team:  Benjamin Dulchin, Moses Gates, Ericka Stallings, Jaime Weisberg, Barika Williams, Eric Williams. Anne Troy, editor.

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