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Here We Go Again: Rent-Stabilized Tenants Rally Against Cost Hikes

Garret Reich Jun 21

The NYC Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) held their third of four public forums at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, where tenants rallied to prevent price bumps to their rent-stabilized apartments.

“No More Increases,” chanted housing activists with Woodside on the Move at one point during the meeting.

Throughout, both landlords and tenants alike voiced their frustrations with the rent-stabilization system, which allows the board to adjust the amount building owners can ask for regulated apartments. The RGB oversees about 900,000 apartments in New York City and will make its final determination at a public hearing on June 25. Typically the board raises rents by about 1 percent to 3 percent each year. Though gradual, the increases amount to thousands of dollars more a year per apartment over time.

Lewis Barbanel, whose company Barberry Rose Management oversees and operates 1000 apartments in the city, called for the board to institute “7 to 9 percent increases going forward, considering we no longer have any MCIs.”

Short for a ‘major capital improvement,’ MCIs entitle landlords to pass the cost of building-wide repairs on to renters. Tenant advocates have long complained that the MCI program is ripe with fraud. Under a sweeping rent reform package approved in Albany earlier this month, New York State will now inspect and audit upgrades, to ensure inflated maintenance costs are not passed onto tenants.

“We’ve gone from incinerators to compactors, which requires a great deal of time and extra work,” Barbanel complained. “We’ve gone to recycling as well.”

Speaking from a tenants perspective, Erica Farias said she has been a resident in the same Queens building for 15 years but has begun worrying she will be evicted. Neighbors of hers who have demanded repairs have been pressured out by the landlord.

“What ends up happening is we get kicked out instead of receiving the services necessary to get our houses fixed,” said Farias who, like virtually all the tenants testifing, spoke with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.

Speaking with The Indypendent during a recess, Cesar Reyes of Asian Americans for Equality said the rent reforms approved by legislators earlier this month were important but that many New York communities remain rent burdened — 30 percent or more of their monthly income goes to their landlord.

“There was a need for that change,” Reyes said, but the RGB must to do more to preserve affordable housing and stop raising rents year after year.

“Why is it difficult for the Rent Guidelines Board to accept a rent freeze?” he asked.