As the first part of its series of Fall Organizing Trainings, ANHD gathered about 20 tenants and organizers for its “Working with DHCR’s Tenant Protection Unit” session on October 8th. The conversation was led by Ericka Stallings, director of the Initiative for Neighborhood and City-Wide Organizing. Its purpose was to demystify the Tenant Protection Unit (or TPU), a New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal sub-unit that was created in 2012. Its self-stated purpose is as follows:
The TPU works proactively to:
- Protect the rights of rent regulated tenants and provide information to both tenants and owners
- Increase compliance with and enforce rent regulation laws
- Detect landlords’ fraudulent acts and non-compliance with housing laws
The first part of the three-hour session was a discussion among the organizers about what they knew about the TPU, what they’d like to know, and any direct experience they’ve had so far with the unit. Then in the second part of the session, representatives from TPU joined us to give more information and answer questions. Here is a summary of what was discussed:
The TPU focuses on widespread patterns in landlord behavior, rather than dealing with individual tenant cases. For example, they may start by looking at trends like which neighborhoods rent is increasing the fastest in. Forensic auditing experts then conduct investigations on landlords, and can subpoena them for documents. This information is used to build cases against landlords – hence their unofficial slogan, “TPU is coming after you”.
This article illustrates some of the work the unit has done so far, including investigating a terrible slumlord in Flatbush and bringing tens of thousands of units back into the rent regulation system. Two other issues they work on are increasing the number of landlords who register the rents in their buildings, and auditing Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) rent increases.
According to the TPU, when you submit a complaint, the more information you have the better. This can consist of photos, surveys filled out by tenants, documents given to tenants, bills, leases, court papers, and notes taken during conversations with the landlord. The complaint should relate to a larger, pervasive problem in New York City rent regulated housing. The TPU evaluates whether they will further investigate based on their capacity and their overall strategy.
Our task now is to find out how to best leverage the TPU’s resources in our organizing. Some important limits to be aware of: their staff is about 30 people, and their jurisdiction is only in rent stabilization. We look forward to working with the TPU, and we hope they will be a valuable addition to our fight against irresponsible and predatory landlords.