New Yorkers are flooding a government website to figure out if they're overpaying for rent

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New Yorkers are flooding a government website to figure out if they're overpaying for rent
In New York, only the landlord and their tenant can request the rental history of their apartment and determine whether the unit is rent-stabilized. Getty Images
  • A New York State government website has seen an uptick in requests for rent histories.
  • The Division of Homes and Community Renewal said "social media activity" has driven up its response time.
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A New York State government website portal that allows tenants to request information about their apartments has seen an uptick in requests due to "social media activity" that has slowed down its response time.

That's according to an automated email the Division of Homes and Community Renewal sent to New Yorkers submitting requests through the portal. A spokesperson for DHCR told Business Insider the "surge" in rent history requests is "unprecedented."

The "social media activity" the DHCR email mentioned might refer to a series of recent viral TikToks encouraging New York tenants to request information about their apartments. The videos have prompted many users to comment and inquire how they can determine whether their units are rent-stabilized — or request assistance in getting their landlords to lower their rent.

The DHCR portal, which allows tenants and landlords to request information about a unit, including rent history and whether the unit is rent stabilized, now has a wait time of about 20 days, the agency spokesperson said. TikToks telling New Yorkers to request their histories began to go viral in late January, garnering thousands of comments at the end of January through February.

As of January 30, the agency was telling inquirers that rent history inquiries would be reviewed and "information and reference material will be mailed directly to the requested apartment address within approximately 10 business days," according to an email reviewed by Business Insider. There was no mention of social media activity.

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One TikTok by openigloo, a listings and landlord review platform, has over 200,000 views, 20,000 likes, and hundreds of comments. In it, openigloo co-founder and CEO Allia Mohamed breaks down the process of how to request rental history from the government, and describes a situation where a tenant didn't realize that their apartment was actually meant to be rent-stabilized and was being illegally overcharged.

Mohamed said that since she posted that TikTok, hundreds of people have emailed openigloo asking for help deciphering the rent history information they've received from DHCR.

"I can see the request date on the histories that they're sending and all of them have been in February and I'm like, interesting, DHCR is probably working overtime right now," Mohamed told Business Insider.

Mohamed said she thinks tenants are being overcharged in about 5% of cases based on the rental histories openigloo has seen. The group has also found errors or missing information in about 50% of cases.

Diana Prendergast, a 27-year-old recording artist who lives in New York, requested her rent history after learning about it from TikTok. She knows that several units in her building are rent-stabilized, and was curious if hers is. She said she's still awaiting her rent history.

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"Honestly, it would mean so much because I want to be able to own real estate one day and own property. And it's very difficult when the majority of me and my boyfriend's income goes to rent," she said.

The surge of interest comes after the agency already reportedly faced a backlog of complaints in 2022, Gothamist reported. Some New Yorkers who realized they were being overcharged on rent had been waiting years for decisions from DHCR. The Met Council on Housing, a tenant advocacy group, told Gothamist that the decision process for an overcharge complaint usually takes two to four years.

Openigloo is working on a publicly accessible map of rent-stabilized apartments across New York City. Because only the tenant or landlord of a particular unit can request rent history or ask DHCR to determine if a unit is rent stabilized, openigloo is asking tenants to share their rental histories with the group.

"We're asking tenants to contribute to the map, to upload their rental histories, and in doing that we're also spotting a lot of discrepancies, overcharges, mistakes in the records that they're sharing," Mohamed said.

Did you request your rent history, or discover you were being overcharged? Contact these reporters at erelman@businessinsider.com and jkaplan@businessinsider.com.

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