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Public Employee Press

On the Job
Part 1 in a series on state rent regulation services employees.

Rent law enforcers

Two units of Local 1359 members play a vital role as guardians of state rent regulation
Workers guarantee freedom of information


Records Access Officer Stacey Payton runs a busy office,

As director of the Freedom of Information Law unit at the state Office of Rent Administration in Queens, she heads a staff of 10 members of Rent Regulation Services Employees Local 1359, including Rent Examiners and Keyboard Specialists.

The unit processes over 600 FOIL requests from tenants and landlords each month. Most people request information in person, but 40 percent of the requests come by mail. Under state law, requests must be met within 20 days.

"I like to think our unit is very productive," Payton said. "We don't get many appeals of our decisions, maybe 10 a year."

Payton has been the secretary of Local 1359 for three years. She has worked for 23 years at the Office of Rent Administration, which enforces the state rent stabilization and control laws.

The requests include inquiries about the rental histories of buildings. Typically, landlords use the records to see if they are charging the correct rent.

Often, tenants who feel they are getting ripped off want to see if the owner has a history of overcharging that could serve as ammunition in a court battle.

Tenants who want to check if the owner of their building has a history as a slumlord seek information about service problems, such as leaky pipes or rat infestation.

"Our job is to provide the public with documents that they are entitled to," said Payton, whose civil service title is Housing and Community Renewal Specialist. "We are the watchdog of people's privacy and the truth. We maintain the integrity of the property system."

Some requests are made by people who aren't entitled to the documents. "Occasionally, people try to obtain information falsely," Payton said. So the workers are strict about verifying the identity of people who submit FOIL requests.

Tenants must provide personal identification and a copy of a lease or telephone records to verify that they live in the building they are inquiring about. Anyone representing them must have a letter verifying that role. Landlords must provide ID and a copy of their deed. Payton's supervisor handles media inquiries about property histories.

The staffers are sometimes subpoenaed to testify in court in landlord-tenant disputes.

"The work here is fast-paced," Payton said. "It keeps us very busy. We all take pride in our job and feel we make a difference."

— GNH

 
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