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Jacked: Life is About to Get More Costly for NYC’s Rent-Stabilized Tenants

Georgia Kromrei May 31

Issue 236

On April 26, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) voted 5-4 against freezing rents for the approximately 950,000 rent-stabilized apartments it oversees in New York City. The board recommended allowing increases of 0.75 to 2.75 percent for one-year lease renewals and 1.75 to 3.75 percent for two-year renewals. The increases it will set at its final vote June 26 will likely be the biggest it’s allowed since Bill de Blasio became mayor in 2014.

The RGB, appointed by the mayor, has nine members. Two represent the interests of tenants, another two represent landlords and the other five are “public members.” It froze rents on one-year leases in 2015 and 2016 — for the first time ever — but last year, it approved increases of 1.25 percent for one-year leases and 2 percent for two-year leases.

At the April 26 preliminary vote, the board rejected the tenant representatives’ proposal for a one-year rent freeze by a 7-2 margin. Angry tenants surged into the auditorium’s aisles in protest, chanting so loudly the landlord representatives didn’t bother to make a proposal.

At the next RGB meeting, on May 24, chair Kathleen Roberts, a former judge, proposed prohibiting people from bringing banners and signs to future meetings. (Attendees already have to go through a metal detector, and noisemakers were banned after protesters brought drums and whistles to a 2006 meeting.) “Democracy is a messy business,” responded tenant representative Leah Goodridge. “People are upset about the affordability crisis. We should be careful about impinging on peoples’ free speech.”

“All we have for power are our voices and our numbers,” said Fitzroy Christian, a tenant organizer who has lived for 42 years in the Bronx. “Protests and signs are a part of people’s testimony.”

New York’s rent-stabilization laws cover buildings of six units or more that were built before 1974, and some more recent units that were built with tax subsidies. These laws will be up for renewal next year. Tenant groups have been urging the legislature to repeal the loopholes it has enacted over the past 21 years, such as deregulating vacant apartments with rents of more than about $2,735 a month. The state Assembly has passed several bills to strengthen rent regulations over the past few years, but a coalition of Republicans and renegade Democrats has blocked them in the state Senate.

The Rent Stabilization Association, the main trade group for residential landlords, spent over $1 million on lobbying in 2017, according to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

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Photo: ZERO HOUR: Tenants make their wishes known at the April 26 RGB meeting. Credit: Steven Wishnia.