The Rent Stabilization Ordinance requires landlords to register with the city information about ownership and management, property description, and some tenancy information like utilities and the current rent amount. This annual registration also requires tenants to verify the reported rent amount too. Now is the time to take a few minutes to review the rent payment history.
What is the Rental Unit Registry?
The rental unit registry is a city database that collects and tracks important information about landlords, properties and tenancies. Each year the city requires the landlord to re-register each property and upon re-renting it at any point in the year they must update their registry record. Among the most important functions of the registry is to establish a ‘certified’ rent for each unit.
The rent amount, also called the base rent to distinguish it from other charges, is used to calculate subsequent lawful rent increases. It is important to track the lawful (‘certified’) rent because tracking rents and some aspects of a tenancy can help to resolve disputes we sometimes see arise between tenants and landlords:
- The tenant and the landlord are in a dispute about the lawful rent (such as when the landlord persuades a tenant to agree to a lease rent but accepts a smaller amount in cash);
- There is a disagreement about a housing service (parking, utilities, storage) that may have been provided but subsequently withdrawn;
- Tenants who pay rent entirely in cash without a receipt;
- Disputes over the rent related to a prior tenant who was evicted for no-just-cause.
Rent overcharges are not uncommon. The registration period is an opportunity for the tenant to document the overcharge and even recover the any excess rent paid.
In sum: rental unit registration is an opportunity to contest any rent amount that is the product of an unlawful rent increase no matter how long ago it occurred.
Step #1: Notice Goes Out
Notices will go to landlords every January (and recently went out on January 2nd). Landlords have 30 days to register their rental units. Tenants are then subsequently informed of the rent amount that was reported by the landlord. The tenant can agree with the reported figure (the tenant need take no action) or report a discrepancy.
Though the reported rent and the paid rent may match, Renters Alliance urges tenants to look more closely at the rent history: is the reported rent amount the actual lawful rent even if it does match the latest rent check?
Step #2: Determine the Lawful Rent
If there is a discrepancy, you can determine your actual rent by going back to the rental agreement (you did retain your lease, right?). What was the agreed rent? That amount would then have been augmented by lawful increases and each should have been officially noticed. From there it is a matter of arithmetic: simply increment the rent upwards based on the subsequent increases.
Some ways to think about the rent history with an eye toward identifying an inaccurate current rent include:
- The reported rent should include only the ‘base rent.’ Does the reported rent include charges (like utilities or parking) that are rolled in? Any such charges should be separate.
- Rent increases are allowed only once in a 12-month period. Has any increase occurred sooner than twelve months after the prior increase?
- Has any increase exceeded the 10% allowed for Chapter 6 tenants; or the city’s determined increase based on CPI for Chapter 5 tenants? (Note: Chapter 6 increases were limited in January of 2017.)
- Does the rent include any city pass-through charges? Again, those are separate from the base rent — not to be rolled into the rent amount reported by the landlord.
- would be unlawful, as would any increase that came before 12 months had elapsed since the previous increase.
Step #3: Take No Action OR Appeal the Reported Rent
If the reported rent is not correct, tenant action is required during the 15-day window after receiving a notice titled, ‘Appeal of the Rent Amount as Reported to the City by the Landlord.’ Read more: Rental Registry Notices in the Mail.
The annual rental unit registration period is a good time to review the rent payment history for any error that may have inflated the rent unlawfully in the past. Those increases carry forward and incrementally build with compounding. We welcome any examples of a reported rent differing from an actual rent. Get in touch with the Alliance.