9’s The Magic Number: How Many Reforms Will Tenants Be Able to Check Off Their List?

Issue 246

Indypendent Staff May 5, 2019

Tenant organizations across the state are pushing for the New York State Legislature to approve a package of nine bills that would amount to what they’ve termed “universal rent control.” Here’s what each measure would do.

1. Tenant Protections Everywhere (S5040/A7046)

This bill would expand the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) of 1974 to allow localities anywhere in New York State to enact rent-stabilization laws, if they have a “housing emergency,” defined as a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent in rental properties. The ETPA as it is now prohibits municipalities outside New York City and the three suburban counties of Nassau, Westchester and Rockland from regulating rents.

2. Good Cause Eviction (S2892/A5030)

Rent stabilization generally covers only buildings with six units or more that were built before 1974. This bill would expand tenant protections, such as the right to renew a lease, to renters everywhere in the state, including those in smaller buildings and in mobile home parks. With exemptions for small owner-occupied buildings, it would mandate landlords show “good cause” before initiating eviction proceedings or refusing to renew a lease, and would restrict excessive rent hikes. This is the only one of the nine measures that Assembly Democrats did not include in their housing platform this spring.

3. No More “Vacancy Decontrol” (S2591/A1198) 

This bill would repeal the 1997 amendment to the ETPA that lets landlords deregulate vacant rent-stabilized apartments if their rent is $2,733 or more a month — which enables them to raise rents as high as they want and to refuse to renew leases without cause. This vacancy decontrol has led to hundreds of thousands of units going market rate, and if it is not eliminated, it will lead to the eventual deregulation of all rent-stabilized housing stock.

4. Ending “Preferential Rent” Hikes (S2845A/A4349)

Rent stabilization sets maximum rents. Landlords are allowed to charge tenants less, a discount called “preferential rent.” This is common in areas, such as much of the Bronx, where the increases allowed on vacant apartments have brought the legal rent up to more than the market value. But when the lease comes up for renewal, a 2003 amendment to the ETPA lets landlords raise rents to the legal limit, which could be hundreds of dollars more. More than 260,000 families in New York City have preferential rents, which makes their housing situation tenuous. This bill would make preferential rents last as long as the tenant stays in the apartment, limiting rent increases to those set annually by the city Rent Guidelines Board (RGB).

5. Goodbye Eviction Bonus (S185/A2351)

Every time a rent-stabilized apartment turns over to a new tenant, the ETPA grants landlords the right to start charging up to 20 percent more for it. This gives landlords an incentive to try to force tenants out. This bill would end the 20 percent vacancy bonus, another loophole enacted in 1997.

6. 7. The Landlord Pays for Repairs (S3693/A6322; S3770/A6465)

When landlords fix up their property, be it in a whole building (major capital improvement) or a single apartment, the ETPA allows them to pass the cost of those repairs on to tenants. This cost, prorated over several years, becomes a permanent addition to the monthly rent. Often such repairs are long overdue and the price of the improvements is exaggerated, while the rent increase remains permanent. These bills would prohibit such increases, so landlords would pay for repairs.

8. Expanding the Statute of Limitations on Cheating Landlords (S4169/A5251)

Even with all the loopholes granted to landlords, illegal rent hikes are common and often go unnoticed by tenants. This bill expands the time tenants have to complain and hold landlords accountable to at least six years. The current limit, also enacted in 1997, is four years, after which whatever dubious rent hikes the landlord has enacted become permanent.

9. Lower Rent-Control Increases (S299A/A167)

There are currently two systems regulating rents in New York. The ETPA and rent stabilization, cover nearly 1 million apartments, but about 22,000 units, occupied by the same family since 1971, are still in the pre-1974 system of rent control. Rent-controlled apartments can be subject to hikes of up to 7.5 percent a year. Such increases are far more than the annual raises allowed by the RGB for rent-stabilized tenants, which have ranged from none to 4.25 percent over the last decade. This bill would make increases for rent-controlled apartments similar to those set by the RGB.

Preventing Homelessness (S2375/A1620)

A tenth bill, “home stability support” legislation, would offer homeless people or those on the verge of homelessness financial assistance. Due to the statewide housing affordability crisis, there are currently 89,000 homeless people in New York, including 22,700 children  living in the New York City shelter system. Under this measure, the state would provide up to 85 percent of local “fair market rent” costs as determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Local governments would have the option of paying the remaining 15 percent. HUD’s 2019 fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,831 a month in New York City, $1,907 in Suffolk County, $1,115 in Albany and $838 in Buffalo.

Photo: CAPITAL CRIMES: Ending “major capital improvement” rent hikes is just one of the measures up for a vote in Albany this year. Credit: Steven Wishnia.

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