Thursday, November 30, 2017
Freeze Your Rent through the Disability Rent Increase Exemption Program
By Lynette Morrow, Volunteer Attorney, Mobilization for Justice (formerly MFY Legal Services)
One Way for The City to Try to Prevent Homelessness and Institutionalization
Rents in New York are high. It is one of the problems that many people with disabilities face in trying to stay in their communities. However, there is potential relief. The Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE, also known as the NYC Rent Freeze Program) program provides an exemption from future rent increases for some people with disabilities. People with disabilities who live in rent-controlled, rent-stabilized, Mitchell-Lama, or other eligible apartments are eligible for a DRIE if they meet certain eligibility requirements.
In 1970, New York City (NYC) began the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program. The SCRIE program offers qualifying senior citizens an exemption from future rent increases. In 2005, NYC created the DRIE program to offer the same benefit for qualifying tenants with disabilities. NYC did this to help senior citizens and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes maintain their current apartments at an affordable rate and remain in the community.
Who is Eligible for a DRIE?
To qualify for a DRIE, you have to be at least 18 years of old and meet four eligibility requirements. First, you must be named on the lease or the rent order or have been granted succession rights in a rent controlled, rent stabilized, or rent regulated hotel apartment, or in a Mitchell-Lama development. If you live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment, an apartment that is partially or fully paid by a Section 8 voucher, or in a non-rent regulated apartment (such as apartments in private homes and private cooperative buildings that are not subject to rent regulation), you are not eligible. Additionally, if you live in a sublet apartment (even if the apartment is rent-regulated), you are not eligible.
Second, you must receive either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or a disability pension or compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. You can also qualify if you receive disability-related Medicaid.
Third, you must have a combined household income that is $50,000 or less. The DRIE program uses taxable and non-taxable income to determine eligibility. Gifts and inheritances are not included as income. Federal, State and local taxes as well as Social Security taxes are allowed as deductions in calculating income for the program. Medical expenses, Medicare premiums and capital or business losses are not allowed as deductions in calculating income. If you don’t file taxes, you can submit any documentation you have showing how you and your household members receive income such as Social Security statements, pension statements, IRA/Annuity statements (including earning statements), IRS forms 1099 and/or W2.
Fourth, you must spend more than one-third of your monthly household income on rent.
How does the DRIE Program Work?
DRIE is a tax credit program. NYC provides landlords with a dollar-for-dollar property tax abatement credit (TAC) that makes up the difference between the amount of rent paid by the DRIE participant and the actual legal rental amount. The Department of Finance (DOF) authorizes the TAC and transfers the credit to the building owner’s property tax account.
How do You Apply for a DRIE?
You can download the initial application packet from the NYC website at http://www1.nyc.gov/site/rentfreeze/tools/drie-forms.page. You can also obtain the packet at the NYC DOF SCRIE/DRIE Walk-In Center at 66 John Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10038. The packet is also available at the NYC DOF business centers (see here for locations: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/finance/about/contact-us-by-visit.page).
For rent stabilized tenants, you will need to provide a copy of your prior and current leases signed by you and your landlord. If you live in rent controlled housing, you must provide a Notice of Maximum Collectible Rent and the owner’s report and Certification of Fuel Cost Adjustments for the prior and current year. If you are a Mitchell-Lama resident, you must provide a copy of the Housing Preservation and Development or Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner’s Orders, Capital Assessment documents and Affidavit of Household Income for the prior year. Additionally, Mitchell-Lama residents must provide a rent printout or letter from the management office specifying the start date and the amount of the most recent rent increase.
Once you apply for a DRIE, you will receive a letter within 45 days indicating the status of your application. If your application is approved, you will receive a letter from the DOF detailing the rate of your frozen rent and the monthly amount that the DOF will credit the landlord, as well as the beginning and end date of your benefits. The DOF may request more documentation to make a decision. If your application is denied, you will be notified as to why and you have the right to appeal. If it takes a few months to approve your application, you will receive retroactive benefits from the 1st of the month in the month after your application was received.
You should automatically receive a renewal application from the DOF approximately 60 days before your benefits end. However, you are responsible for ensuring you renew your application. In order to renew, you must submit income documents for all household members for the prior year, as well as a copy of your renewal lease signed by you and the landlord. If you do not renew timely, your landlord will continue to receive credits through the grace period (six months). If your application is not renewed, you will be responsible for paying your landlord back for the difference between the frozen rent amount and the legal rent.
DRIE is transferable to another apartment. If you are still eligible to receive a DRIE at your new apartment, the amount of your tax abatement credit amount will transfer with you.
DRIE is a great benefit to those who qualify. Helping people stay in their homes is one of the most cost effective and humane ways to prevent homelessness. The DRIE program allows New Yorkers who have disabilities to avoid homelessness or institutionalization in the stability and dignity of their own homes.
Note: If you have any questions or problems with your DRIE benefits, please contact Mobilization for Justice’s Mental Health Law Project. The intake line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.—5 p.m. The number is 212-417-3830. You can also email the Mental Health Law Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.