The Maximum Allowable Rent's level is based on the housing services provided by the landlord. The services must be maintained at the levels comparable to when they were first provided (a) for pre-1999 tenants on or after April 30, 1984, or (b) for 1999-or-later tenants on or after their move-in date.
The Adjudication Services Division holds administrative hearings to adjust the Maximum Allowable Rent when any of the following occurs:
- A housing service is substantially reduced or eliminated (Click for Housing Service and On-Site Manager Requirements);
- Your landlord fails to perform necessary or required maintenance under the Ordinance or under fire, health, housing or property maintenance codes (Click for Maintenance Standards);
- The maximum allowable rent has not been established for a unit
- The Maximum Allowable Rent is in dispute and the landlord may be overcharging the tenant.
Generally, the hearing is based on a tenant's application to the Department. The hearing process normally occurs after the landlord has not responded to a written 30-day request by the tenant, to attempts to mediate and, often, to notices to correct violations issued by enforcement agencies.
The Department administers the Maximum Allowable Rent and this is the amount decreased by hearing decisions. Basically all tenancies that began 1996 or later are paying the MAR and will experience a rent reduction if the hearing examiner finds that there is a substantial reduction in the housing service, a code violation or lack of maintenance under the Ordinance.
However, tenants who moved into a unit before 1996 should check whether they are paying the Maximum Allowable Rent yet. If their actual monthly rent is far below the MAR, they may not experience a rent reduction even if the hearing examiner orders a MAR decrease. Continued refusal to correct problems or restore housing services after such a hearing decision, would disqualify the landlord of such tenants from raising their rent to the MAR until the work was done.
How Does the Decrease Hearing Process Start?
A tenant writes a letter requesting that the landlord restore, repair, replace the specific service or perform required maintenance or reduce the rent being charged to the current Maximum Allowable. The tenant sends the request to the landlord or property agent. The tenant must keep a signed and dated copy of the notice to the landlord. A verbal request will not meet the noticing requirement. The notice from an enforcement agency about the issues also doesn't replace the tenant's 30-day written request to the landlord to do the work. The Rent Stabilization Department has a sample letter available that tenants may use or refer to when preparing their request.
Once the tenant's request is 30-days old and the landlord has not performed the work or the landlord has refused the request in total before 30 days are up, the tenant may apply for a hearing to decrease the Maximum Allowable Rent until the service is restored. Both landlord and tenant may want to contact the City's Mediator to see if they can resolve the problem before the tenant submits an application for the hearing.
The tenant must submit an application for the rent decrease hearing with a copy of the written request to the landlord attached. If the issues include code violations, the tenant should also attach copies of the notices to correct issued by the enforcement agency for the problems. Unless the tenant is a senior or disabled and their income is some form of public assistance, the tenant pays an application fee for the hearing; if the hearing examiner finds that a substantial reduction in a housing service exists, the tenant may deduct the fee after the examiner's decision becomes final
Rules for Getting the Work Done
Once the tenant requests that the work be done, the landlord may give reasonable notice - usually at least the day before - and then enter the unit to inspect for the requested work, to show the problems to contractors for estimates, and to do the work. If a tenant continues to refuse access after the landlord gives a legal notice to enter to take care of requested work, there may be no basis for the hearing.
The tenant does not have to be home for the landlord to enter if proper notice to enter was given. The landlord cannot require that a tenant be home to supervise contractors or handymen; landlords are responsible for the people they hire who enter a tenant's unit. The landlord is also responsible for all actions necessary to get work done; this includes such things as reasonable furniture moving.
If there are problems with scheduling work so that it is convenient for both tenant and landlord, the parties may want to contact the City's Mediator to work out a solution together.
What Is a Rent Decrease Hearing?
A rent decrease hearing is a meeting before a Hearing Examiner during which both the landlord and tenant present evidence. A determination is made as to whether or not a housing service is to be restored, maintenance is to be performed, or the Maximum Allowable Rent is set. The rent is then reduced if the landlord does not comply with the Hearing Examiner's decision. If the hearing examiner finds that a rent overcharge exists, they may reduce the legal MAR until the past overcharges are restored to the tenant.
Before some hearings, the examiner may send out an inspector. This inspector does not enforce anything or make any decisions about the condition of services, maintenance or code violations. S/he writes a description of what s/he sees. Even with this inspection, the landlord and tenant must still bring evidence about the services, maintenance and/or code violations at issue. The examiner uses the report to weigh the evidence brought by tenant and landlord not to replace it.
The results of a hearing may be appealed to the Rent Stabilization Commission if you believe that the decision is not supported by the evidence, resulted from an abuse of discretion on the part of the Hearing Examiner, is in violation of the Ordinance or State Law, or is clearly in error.
The hearing decision is not final, decreases do not go into effect and the tenant may not deduct the filing fee from the rent if an appeal of the decision is filed. The decision becomes final once the Rent Stabilization Commission has decided upon the appeal and upholds or denies the examiner's decision.
You may contact the Department for more information about the process at (323) 848-6450.