- N.Y. lawmakers agree on tenant protections, rental rules
- Landlords say changes will plunge city into 1970s-era chaos
Millions of New Yorkers woke up on Wednesday to the prospect of a city where their rents will barely rise, they’re safe from eviction and they’ll never have to put down more than a month’s security deposit.
Their landlords had a different kind of morning.
“Most of these lawmakers were not alive in the 1970s and 1980s to see what legislation like this did to the city’s housing,” Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords, said in a statement. “Buildings will fall into disrepair, owners will not have the funds to make necessary repairs to these aging buildings, and thousands of local jobs will be lost.”
The New York state legislature on Tuesday agreed on a package of sweeping tenant protections and rent regulations that would be the biggest rewrite of tenant law in decades. Current rules expire June 15, and these are intended to be permanent. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said he intends to sign them.
The measure, produced by a legislature in which Democrats won control last year, would repeal provisions that remove units from rent stabilization when rent crosses a high threshold or when the unit becomes vacant, or if the tenant’s income is $200,000 or higher in the preceding two years. It also eliminates the “vacancy bonus” provision that allows a property owner to raise rents as much as 20% each time a unit becomes vacant.
Tens of thousands of apartments have been removed from rent-stabilized status, sending rents higher as neighborhoods gentrify. An analysis of the housing market prepared by a tenants’ advocacy group, the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, found Central Harlem lost 500 rent-stabilized units between 2015 and 2016. Astoria, Queens, lost 634 such units and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 460.
“Tenants have pounded on Albany’s door for decades for the protections they deserve. We’ve stood with them, fought for them tooth-and-nail, and now the wait is finally over,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called the bills “a remarkable achievement that will halt displacement, harassment and unjust evictions.”
Renters’ advocate groups such as Housing Justice for All, which has been pushing for such laws for more than 20 years, said the changes were needed to counter decades of abuse by some landlords and a shrinking supply of affordable housing. More than half of apartments in New York City are covered by some kind of rent regulation.
The laws would “end tenant harassment, displacement, destabilization and rising rents,” providing hope that “every renter, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, can live free from the fear of displacement and eviction,” according to a statement from Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for the housing advocacy group.
Tenant protections in the bills include a provision that makes it a crime for a landlord to forcibly evict or lock out a tenant, and a requirement to notify any tenant if a lease won’t be renewed or if rent will increase 5% or more. Other provisions give tenants more time to get a lawyer or fix lease violations to stave off eviction, and allow judges to delay an eviction for up to a year if the tenant can’t find similar housing in the same neighborhood.
Lawmakers said they would most likely vote on the package Friday, a day before the current laws are set to expire. The proposed bills would have no expiration date, but the Saturday deadline set forward a furious effort by landlord groups to try to dissuade lawmakers from approving the bills.
Strasburg said Democratic lawmakers had merely acted to satisfy tenants as a a voting constituency without regard to “the severe consequences that it will have on the city’s housing stock and the communities and jobs that building owners invest in.” He predicted that aging buildings would fall into disrepair, with owners unable to afford renovations.
“The legislature must seriously reconsider these outlandish proposals and think about what is at stake,” he said.
Legislative leaders gave no indication that amendments to the bills would be forthcoming. In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie touted their deal as “the strongest tenant protections in history.”
They called it “the right thing to do,” and aimed their disapproval directly at the industry that drives much of the city’s economy and is now recoiling at their efforts, saying “for too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state.”
Even before the package was finalized, Cuomo said he would sign it.
“The best bill they can pass, I will sign,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “The law will expire on Saturday. And if you want to hear an explosion in this state, you let the rent control laws expire. So literally, they have until tomorrow.”
Once the legislation is introduced, a vote can be held after three days.
The Real Estate Board of New York, which said it favored “responsible rent reforms,” had joined a coalition of property owners calling on Cuomo to veto the bills if the legislature refuses to amend them.
“This legislation will not create a single new affordable housing unit, improve the vacancy rate or improve enforcement against the few dishonest landlords who tend to dominate the headlines,” said Kerri Lyon, spokesperson for the coalition, which includes REBNY, Small Property Owners of New York Inc., Community Housing Improvement Program, and Strasburg’s group, the Rent Stabilization Association.
“It is now up to the governor to reject this deal in favor of responsible rent reform that protects tenants, property owners, building contractors and our communities,” the coalition’s statement said.
The new rules will discourage investment in New York City rental buildings, many of which are more than a century old, said Andrew Barrocas, chief executive officer of brokerage MNS.
He compared the new rules to the city’s reaction to Amazon.com Inc.’s plans for an office hub in Queens. The tech giant canceled those plans after politicians raised concerns about the tax benefits the company was given, and the expected effect on housing costs.
“Between this and the Amazon debacle, we’re showing the world that New York City is anti-business, anti-growth, anti-a-lot-of-things,” Barrocas said. “I just think it’s bad for the city, because we’re a place people want to deploy capital. That capital is going elsewhere. In the last year, a lot of the people I work with have stopped buying in New York.”