November 10, 2015

Criticism and Litigation Over Renewal Clause in Rent-Freeze Program for Older New Yorkers

NOV. 10, 2015

The New York Times- As New York City officials encourage older tenants to take advantage of an underused program that freezes their rents, they have also been cutting off participants who fail to renew on time, advocates say.

The Rent Freeze Program allows tenants 62 and older to lock their rent at the current rate if they live in a rent-regulated apartment, have an annual income of no more than $50,000 and pay more than a third of their household income in rent. The program, which gives landlords property tax abatements and costs the city $139 million a year, is intended to protect older New Yorkers from escalating rents and help them remain in their homes.

But participants must renew every two years, according to state law. Organizations and lawyers that serve the elderly said many people missed the deadlines because of memory loss, illness and other conditions associated with aging.

“Renewal of anything is a problem,” said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy for LiveOn NY, which represents more than 100 groups serving older New Yorkers. “This is true for all benefits. They don’t realize what they’re getting in the mail.”

A lawsuit filed this year in United States District Court on behalf of eight plaintiffs who faced termination from the program seeks to allow participants with disabilities as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act to renew at the same rent levels even if they miss the deadline.

The suit claims that many participants are cut off when they miss renewal deadlines beyond the six-month grace period and are asked to file a new application. But when they rejoin the program, the lawsuit said, their rents are frozen at the rate the apartment goes for at that time, which is often hundreds of dollars more and unaffordable for the tenants.

Typically, the tenants do not realize they have been dropped from the program until many months later, when a landlord takes them to Housing Court for nonpayment of rent and seeks an eviction, the plaintiff’s lawyers said.

Read more in The New York Times. 

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