If You Just Can’t Afford The Rent

What you need to know…

High rents are probably the biggest problem for most New York City tenants.

There are limited resources available to help tenants pay their rent. This information sheet is meant as a guide to your options if you find yourself unable to afford the rent in the apartment that you currently live in.

We won’t solve this problem one person at a time – we must come together and organize to change our laws and housing policies. We encourage you to become active in our campaigns for affordable housing rights.

How can I get assistance with paying back-rent?

You may be eligible for assistance in paying back rent if you are facing an eviction for nonpayment of rent.

There are only a small number of programs that provide rental assistance on a monthly basis to people who are unable to afford their apartments (see below for more on FEPS, HASA, and Section 8). However, many people qualify for one-time assistance in paying back rent to avoid eviction. Grants and loans are available from the government and from private charity sources.

To qualify for assistance in paying back rent, you must be able to demonstrate that you have the ability to pay your ongoing rent. You also must be facing an eviction in housing court, and present either proof of an active eviction case, or proof that landlord will evict you (a notice from the landlord that eviction papers will be served if the rent is not paid.)

One-shot deals:

A one-shot deal is an interest-free loan or a grant from the government to help tenants with back rent. You may apply once you receive court papers in a non-payment of rent case. One-shot deals can take months to be approved, so you are strongly encouraged to apply for assistance as soon as you receive court papers, even if you think that you may be able to come up with the funds on your own. You may have to return to court many times to request extensions while your one-shot deal application, but Housing Court judges are familiar with the program and may be willing to grant these extensions, particularly if you pay your ongoing rent while you are waiting for a decision.

To find out the local HRA center where you can apply for a one-shot deal, call 311.

Applications for one-shot assistance are evaluated based on:

  • the tenant’s ability to pay ongoing rent (i.e. they can afford their current rent, and only need help in paying what they already owe)
  • the tenant’s compliance with the procedures (they must attend appointments, provide paperwork, show up to court dates, and pay current rent)
  • the reason for falling behind in rent must be ‘valid’ (loss of job, medical emergency, death in the family, etc.)
  • the amount must be below a certain amount (usually $7,000) and not reflect more than three months’ rent, though exceptions can be made)

Be advised that even when tenants qualify for one-shot deals, the assistance sometimes cover part of the back rent owed, but not all of it. You may have to come up with a portion of it on your own, or with the help of a third party, such as a family friend, or a charity.

Charity assistance:

A number of charities provide limited assistance with back-rent. As with the one-shot deals, to qualify you must be able to pay your ongoing rent, as they only help pay what is already owed. Charities assistance is sometimes combined with government assistance.

To get referrals to charities across New York City that provide rental-assistance, call the Housing Court Answers rent assistance hotline at 212-962-4795

The charities that provide back-rent assistance ask that you contact the central number above for initial intake and referrals, and that you do not contact the charities directly.

I receive public assistance. Do I qualify for ongoing rental assistance with FEPS? (Note: FEPS was formerly known as Jiggets)

Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) is one of the only rental assistance programs that is currently open for new applicants in New York City. It replaces a program that used to be known as Jiggets.

To be eligible for FEPS:

  • at least one household member must currently receive public assistance or have an active public assistance case
  • at least one child under 18 must live in the household and be a part of the public assistance budget (or under 19 if the child is in high school or an equivalent program)
  • the tenant must be facing an eviction in court, and owe back rent

Where to apply for FEPS:

Some organizations that can help you obtain FEPS are located in the city’s HRA centers, but you can also ask for a list of places to go to apply for FEPS by calling Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795.

For more information about the program, read the Legal Aid Society’s Frequently Asked Questions about FEPS.

As a person living with HIV/AIDS, how can I qualify for ongoing rental assistance through HASA?

People living with HIV/AIDS and certain family members/caretakers of theirs may be eligible for ongoing rental assistance and other essential benefits (including medical care) through the HASA program (HIV/AIDS Service Administration.) Clients may receive rental assistance to live in privately-owned housing, or referrals to public housing and/or other supportive housing facilities, with payments or fees based on their income. 

To obtain more information about HASA or to apply for the program, call the ServiceLine at 212-971-0626; (TTY machine): (212) 971-2731 

The program’s office is located at:

400 Eighth Avenue, 2nd Floor New York, NY 10001

Links HASA application forms:

  • Addendum for HASA Application (PDF)
  • SSA4814-Adult Application (PDF)
  • SSA4815-Child Application (PDF)

Learn more about the program at the HASA information page on the NYC.GOV website.

Can I get a Section 8 voucher to help me pay the rent?

Section 8 is a federal program that assists low-income households pay rent in privately-owned apartments. Tenants pay 30% of their total household income towards rent, and the Section 8 voucher covers the difference between that amount and the total rent for the apartment. In New York City, the Section 8 portable voucher program is administered by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). A smaller number of vouchers are made available for certain developments by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

While there are nearly 100,000 households in New York City with a Section 8 voucher, there is no more funding for additional vouchers. As people leave the program, new individuals or families on the waiting list may be able to get a voucher, but the wait time can be very long.

Currently the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers is closed except for emergency applicants in the following categories:

  • Victim of Domestic Violence
  • Intimidated Witness referred by the District Attorney’s Office
  • Applicants referred by the Administration for Children’s Services under the Independent Living or Family Reunification Programs

To learn more, or to find out how to get on the waiting list, go to the Frequently Asked Questions about Section 8 on the NYCHA website.

Am I being overcharged for my rent-stabilized apartment?

There is a maximum legal rent for every rent-stabilized apartment, based on the unique history of that apartment. It’s not based on the apartment’s size, nor the going rent of apartments in that area, nor the income of the tenant. Rents can be increased by few percent every time the lease is renewed, and by larger amounts every time there is a new tenant or the apartment is renovated.

To find out the legal rent for your apartment, your first step is to request a rent history from the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). That is the state agency in charge of overseeing rent-regulated apartments.

Landlords of rent-stabilized buildings are required to register the rents they charge with HCR. They may or may not be registering the correct amount, but the first thing you need to do is find out what they have registered.

You can obtain a copy of your apartment’s rent history from the DHCR in one of two ways:

  1. BY PHONE: Call HCR and ask them to mail your rent history to you: 718-639-7400
  2. IN PERSON: HCR has offices throughout the city, and you can get your rent history from any office. You must have valid government-issued photo ID (drivers license, passport, etc) and a copy of your lease. Click here for a list of locations of HCR’s Borough and District Rent Offices.

Once you get your rent history, you may want to talk to an experienced advocate, tenant lawyer, community-based organization, or assistant to an elected official, to help you interpret your rent history and decide how to proceed. Getting free legal representation can be difficult, but you can always at the Resource Rooms located at the New York City Housing Courts. To find out who your elected officials are, you can call 311. If you’re going to be in court before you have a chance to talk with a lawyer or advocate, you may want to ask for an adjournment (a request for a later court date) in order to get more time to look into the matter.

If you believe that you are being overcharged, your two options for seeking a rent-adjustment and a refund are:

  1. file a rent overcharge complaint with the DHCR (call 718-739-6400 for the form or visit an office on the back of this sheet) OR
  2. raise the overcharge as a defense in your nonpayment Housing Court case.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each method of challenging your legal rent, and consequences based on which one you choose. If possible, seek legal counsel before deciding which route is best for you.

Do I have a right to have a roommate or family member move in with me and help me pay the rent?

In New York State, the law protects the right of certain tenants to live with a roommate regardless of what it says in their leases. This right cannot be waived.

All tenants have a right to have family members reside with them so long as the apartment does not become overcrowded. If you live in living in subsidized housing or if you receive rental assistance, you must report all household members and their incomes, including when this changes mid-lease.

If you live in a privately-owned building and are the only person named on your lease, you also have the right to share your apartment with one other adult not related to you, and that person’s  dependent children. (Note: overcharging roommates in rent-stabilized apartments is prohibited.)

Exceptions and restrictions to the right to share your apartment apply to tenants living in subsidized housing and those who receive rental assistance based on income-eligibility. Always check your program’s rules before taking in another household member.

For more information on this topic, visit our page on Your right to have a rooommate.

I am a senior citizen over 62 years of age. How can I apply to have my rent frozen through the SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) program?

Seniors living in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments, Mitchell-Lama or limited dividend company buildings (such as Penn South or Amalgamated Houses), and apartments regulated by the loft board, are eligible to have their rent frozen through the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program (SCRIE) if: 

  • the head of household is 62 or older
  • the household income less than $50,000.
  • the rent is 1/3 of income or an upcoming rent increase will bump the rent over that mark

The program is administered by the New York City Department of Finance. To apply, you can

  • visit the Department of Finance’s SCRIE web page, or download the SCRIE application (English) directly;
  • have the SCRIE application mailed to you by calling the city’s central information number 311
  • going to your local senior center

While on the Department of Finance’s SCRIE web page, you can also use ACCESS NYC to find out if you are eligible for other government benefits and resources for seniors.

If I am disabled, how can I apply to have my rent frozen through the DRIE (Disability Rent Increase Exemption) program?

Disabled tenants living in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments, Mitchell-Lama or limited dividend company buildings (such as Penn South or Amalgamated Houses), and apartments regulated by the loft board are eligible to have their rent frozen if:

  • the tenant receives state or federal disability-related financial assistance: Federal Supplementary Security Income (SSI); Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); US Dept. of Veterans Affairs disability pension or compensation (Must be Military service-related disability pension or compensation); or Disability-related Medicaid (if the applicant has received either SSI or SSDI in the past)
  • the household income less than $50,000.
  • the rent is 1/3 of income or an upcoming rent increase will bump the rent over that mark 

The program is administered by the New York City Department of Finance. To apply, you can

  • visit the Department of Finance’s SCRIE web page, or download the DRIE application (English) directly;
  • have the DRIE application mailed to you by calling the city’s central information number 311 

How can I find a new apartment that I can afford?

Privately-owned housing:

The majority of affordable housing in New York City is privately owned, and not subsidized by the government. Thanks to decades of advocacy from tenants, New York continues to have a robust system of rent regulations for our privately-owned housing. The two rent-regulation programs – rent stabilization and rent control – together provide the essential rent and eviction protections that 2.5 million New Yorkers depend on in order to be able to afford their apartments – more than every subsidy-based affordable housing program combined. Most people begin their search for a privately-owned apartment by searching websites and local newspapers, by working with a real estate broker or agent, or by word of mouth. You may want to check Apartment Hunting Resources on the Web, on the New York City Rent Guidelines Board’s website.

Subsidized affordable housing programs:

Most of the apartment buildings developed through government affordable housing programs have waiting lists or, if recently built, a lottery application process. To apply at existing buildings subsidized by the state or federal governments, you must go directly to the development and fill out an application. New buildings usually accept applications by mail and then you go through a lottery to determine if you will be given an apartment. These are usually advertised in the local daily newspapers.

Places to start when searching for goverment-funded affordable-housing options: