New Law Aids Low-Income Renters

DRIE_webOn August 14, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into local law a measure to bring the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE, pronounced “dree”) in line with a change in the upper limit on the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE, pronounced “scree”). Both DRIE and SCRIE are designed to protect some low-income renters from most rent increases by freezing their rent at one-third of their household income.

“Every New Yorker deserves to live in safe and affordable housing—no matter how much they earn,” said the mayor. “Our administration is committed to ensuring disabled New Yorkers are provided the same access and services as every other resident of our city, and this legislation brings us one step closer to this critical goal.”

Changes to SCRIE and DRIE were authorized  by the state legislature, allowing the city to  implement them. Whereas previously both programs had an income threshold of $29,000, the 2014-2015 State budget authorized the SCRIE limit to be increased to $50,000 for the next two years. DRIE was originally left untouched, but in June the legislature voted to bring parity to the two programs, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on that in July.  The State also eliminated the two-tier eligibility requirements previously in place to distinguish between single renters or households of two or more. With its upper income limit nearly doubled, Mayor de Blasio said at a recent event honoring the anniversary of the ADA, “at least 3,000 more individuals and families will have access to these benefits, and will be able to afford the housing they’re in.”

Eligibility for DRIE

SCRIE, designed to assist senior New Yorkers with their rent by exempting them from increases became law in 1970; DRIE became available in 2005. Both programs share a number of features, in addition to the income limit. Not all rental housing is covered under DRIE. In order to be eligible, applicants must be the tenant of record in residences that are among the following types:

  • rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments
  • rent-regulated residential hotel units
  • Mitchell-Lama apartments
  • HDFC cooperatives
  • apartments located in a building where the mortgage is federally insured under Section 213 of the National Housing Act

NYCHA public housing and apartments partially or fully paid by Section 8 are not eligible for DRIE (or SCRIE) protection. Sublets are also ineligible. No apartment can be protected by both SCRIE and DRIE—it must be one or the other—and only one exemption is available per household.

The significant difference between the two programs is that SCRIE is only for people aged 62 or older. To be eligible for DRIE, you must have a disability as defined by federal guidelines; you must have been awarded SSI or SSDI, be on disability-related Medicaid, or have a disability pension or income from the Department of Veterans Affairs; and you must be 18 years of age or older.

How it works

Assuming you meet all of the eligibility requirements, how would DRIE work for you? Assume your household income is $36,000 a year; dividing by 12, this works out to $3,000 a month.  To figure out one-third of your monthly income (the amount DRIE defines as a rent bill you can afford), divide $3,000 by three, which gives you $1,000. If your rent is more than $1,000, it will be frozen at $1,000. If your rent is $1,100, for example, you will pay $1,000 for rent and your landlord can claim $100 per month in tax credits. (If your rent without DRIE is $1,000 or less, you are not eligible for DRIE with an income of $36,000.  And if your income is over $50,000, you are ineligible for DRIE.)

What kinds of increases are (and aren’t) covered?

Most rent increases are covered under DRIE. These include standard scheduled increases, such as those allowed when a tenant renews a lease; major capital improvements (MCI), to compensate a landlord for investing in a building’s infrastructure; hardship increases, allowable when a landlord shows that rent does not offset the costs of maintaining a unit; or fuel cost adjustments. If an MCI is issued 90 days or more before a tenant’s application for a DRIE has been received, the tenant is responsible for paying it; the MCI amount is then added to the frozen rent amount.

DRIE covers only rent paid to live in a unit. It does not pay for extra services, equipment or space that might be available to tenants of a building, such as:

  • Doorman, janitor, or maid services
  • Air-conditioning
  • Intercom
  • Parking or storage spaces
  • New furniture, furnishings or electric enhancements
  • Security deposits
  • Utilities such as electricity, gas, water, or cable TV

How to sign up

If you think you qualify for DRIE, there are several ways to get an application or find out more about the program. You can call New York City’s 311 information line, visit the Department of Finance’s DRIE page (nyc.gov/DRIE) or e-mail DRIE@Finance.nyc.gov . You can also visit the Finance SCRIE/DRIE Walk-in Center at 66 John Street in Manhattan. You do not need the permission of your landlord to apply.
If you want to read more about DRIE and SCRIE, here’s a handy guide in PDF format.

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