Updated 11:28 a.m. with a comment from Equity: Landlord-tenant relations are often fraught—and arguably even more so in 80/20 buildings, where a fifth of apartments are set aside for employed middle- or low-income renters, who pay a steeply discounted rent to live in well-appointed digs in some of the most desirable parts of the city. In theory, the "20 percenters" are treated just like their wealthier neighbors, but in practice that doesn't always happen (see: the poor door controversy and the debate over amenity segregation).
Add to the list a new complaint over intrusive home inspections. One 80/20 tenant in Hell’s Kitchen received a letter (pictured) from her management company, Equity Residential, warning her of an upcoming "comprehensive inspection," where staff would check to make sure she’d complied with 16 separate guidelines, among them that the kitchen sink was “clear of dirty dishes,” that all lightbulbs were replaced, and that “the entire apartment [was] free of clutter, clothes and boxes.”
“The list of items is in no way to be considered all-inclusive, but it should be used as a guideline only,” the letter continues. “We appreciate your hard work and cooperation in preparing for this unit inspection.”
The tenant, who’s lived in the building for more than a decade, has received inspection letters before, usually around the time the management company goes through recertification (an annual process that involves ensuring 20 percenters aren’t running afoul of their leases or the program's rules), according to a relative, who sent the letter our way.
In the past, the letters simply notified tenants of when the inspection would take place, and “it was a chance to show management what needed repair in the unit,” the relative says. But roughly two years ago, Equity took over as the property manager, and it seems things have changed. The relative says she knows of another tenant in a building on West End Avenue also managed by Equity that received the same letter about a year ago.
“The letter is a bit jarring and very condescending,” the relative says.
Marty McKenna, a spokesperson for Equity, notes that "inspections for affordable units are part of the annual recertification process, specifically with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program in New York City. Since the regulatory agencies do conduct unit inspections on a percentage of these units when the properties are audited, it benefits both our company and our residents to ensure regulatory physical inspections are passed and the apartments remain in great shape."
Rob Solano, the executive director of community non-profit Churches United for Fair Housing, concurs that these inspections are routine and legal.
Property managers have the right to inspect a 20 percenter's apartment to see what kind of condition it’s in, as well as to verify that the person whose name is on the lease lives in the place, and isn’t illegally subletting it, Solano explains. “They want to make sure you’re there, you have the keys, you’re inside,” he says.
Building management is also looking for “egregious things”—not common clutter, but holes in the walls—and as long as you’re complying with the terms of your lease, you shouldn’t worry about getting kicked out for failing to replace a lightbulb.
Still, it seems Equity’s letter goes into an uncommon level of detail.
“Oh man, that letter is crazy!” says a tenant of one Battery Park City 80/20 building who has blogged about her experience for BrickUnderground. “I have never received a letter like that.”
In the 14 years she’s lived in the apartment, the tenant says, she’s had two home inspections, but the point was apparently to ensure that the management company was maintaining the property. The super and a rep from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program were on hand as well. “They certainly weren’t looking in my sink for dirty dishes! That is absurd,” she says.
Solano was also surprised by Equity’s 16-item list. “This is probably as specific [a letter] as I’ve ever seen,” he says. “It seems like a very overly aggressive, controlling letter.”
He speculates that it may be a response to a bad experience with another tenant, but warns that residents reading the list may assume the 16 items are rules, rather than suggestions. It might be wise to contact the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to get the letter on record, in case it eventually is used to kick out a tenant, he says. It’s also possible the company would agree to change the wording or format to make it clearer that these are guidelines. (Churches United can contact HPD on behalf of tenants.)
Meanwhile, the reader says the apartment is clean. “My concern is not really with the threat of being kicked out because they would have no merit,” she says, “but really the tone that is being set with sending out letters like this. The ‘poor door’ would have definitely been on a different level but it has a similar sentiment.”