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NYC Comptroller proposes security deposit reforms

They're a time-honored and seemingly unchangeable mechanism linked with renting an apartment in New York City.

"They" are security deposits, and it would be a gross understatement to simply note that they tie up a portion of the assets held by hundreds of thousands of city tenants. According to the Office of the New York City Comptroller, metro landlords held more than half a billion in such deposits in a recent year.

That clearly rankles Comptroller Scott Stringer, who laments what he says is an unfairly huge amount of renters' money "being held hostage." Stringer calls the security deposit apparatus in NYC "not right and not necessary."

In fact, he stresses, there is a better way forward, which he proposed recently in the form of various suggestions. Stringer says that adoption of some of his office's recommendations will go far toward promoting a needed injection of equity concerning money that tenants must cough up as a prerequisite to getting housing. Here are a few of the comptroller's ideas:

· Imposed deposit caps - one month for a one-year lease

· Installment payment options over the course of a lease in lieu of a one-time upfront exaction

· Insurance alternatives to deposits (in standard fashion, with tenants' payments being nonrefundable)

· Deposits held by a neutral third party with power to arbitrate end-of-lease disputes

A recent article detailing Stringer's security deposit suggestions stresses the point that tenants who are frustrated by landlords' failure to return deposits upon lease termination should contact the state Attorney General's office.

Alternatively, of course, or in conjunction with that, an aggrieved renter can turn to a tenants' rights law firm with a long-tenured history of proven advocacy on behalf of renters for assistance.

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