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DHCR setting new policy for tenant complaint challenges.

Those owners plagued by tenants who allege building-wide service reductions will now have a quick way to combat those often unsubstantiated charges.

Rather than waiting months for a Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) inspector to arrive, the owner can now hire a licensed architect or engineer to attest to the true conditions.

"I'm very optimistic that owners will be able to relieve their biggest headache at DHCR, which is service complaints," said Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP). "So allowing professionals to make the determination will be a tremendous time-saver."

The new methodology will work both ways, however, and tenants will be able to employ architects and engineers to rebut the owner's claims of conditions.

These professionals may not be related to the tenants or owner, and must not have worked on the project or have an ownership interest.

An affidavit attesting to conditions that exist or do not exist can be rebutted within 30 days by either party. Failure to rebut the presumption within 30 days will result in an order being issued by DHCR without further inspection.

Owners cannot use this method, however, to obtain the restoration of rents based on heat and/or hot water complaints.

Margulies says for other matters, this is the "second best solution," because the first would have been defining service reduction cases "rationally," so cases could be dismissed outright.

Under the current system, which Margulies terms "a raffle," tenants can send a letter to DHCR complaining about items ranging from floors not being mopped to the color of paint in areas that are off-limits to tenants. And if certain complaints are on file, they can interfere with the granting of certain rent increases, including Major Capital Improvements (MCI) and with non-payment court cases, even before a DHCR inspector can make their way to the property for an inspection.

If tenants' complaints relate to MCI work, under this new policy statement 96-1, the complaint can be resolved on the basis of a municipal "sign-off," or if the complaint does not relate to the subject of the sign-off, it can be resolved by the affidavit of an independent licensed architect or engineer. Tenants can rebut this only by "persuasive evidence," which could include a counter affidavit or an affirmation of 51 percent of complaining tenants.

"As tenants find the professionals are rebutting their claims and they are not getting a reduction for every letter, they will stop bothering," claimed Margulies, who credits the "new thinking" in Albany for the changes.

"It's privatization at our direct expense, but qualified people will be doing the work and it will be resolved quickly," Margulies said. "It's a tremendous step forward."

The new policy statement was to be further explained at the CHIP seminar at the Association of the Bar Meeting Hall at 42 W. 44th Street on Wednesday, March 27th.
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Title Annotation:Division of Housing and Community Renewal
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Mar 27, 1996
Words:480
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