New York’s Rent Laws Extended, But at What Cost?

The legislative frenzy that led up to the passage of New York State’s marriage equality bill eclipsed a deal to extend the state’s rent regulations. Some tenant advocates are lauding the deal, but is it enough? Did the new rent language “protect the rich,” as some worried?

A legislative potpourri, characterized as “The Big Ugly” by legislators (as reported in The Gotham Gazette) included a package of property tax cap and mandate relief legislation, as well as rent law extensions, that was “patched together in last-minute negotiations.” New York State’s rent control laws, which had, in an act of brinksmanship, expired June 15, were tweaked so that landlords can now charge market rates for vacant apartments when rent reaches $2,500 — up from $2,000, and maximum annual income will increase from $175,00 to $200,000. Other components of the law’s extension being viewed in a favorable light include a once-per-year limit on a landlord can collect a 20 percent vacancy bonus; a change to the rent increase calculation for Individual Apartment Improvement Increases from 1/40 to 1/60 of the cost of the improvements in buildings over 35 units (potentially slowing the rate of decontrol); and a requirement that the state regulatory agency, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, publicize the law’s rules and regulations.

And so, while groups like the Metropolitan Council on Housing lauded the rent law extension, saying that it allowed the for further strengthening of the laws, others were not as positive. Anderson Fils-Aime, an activist for the Real Rent Reform Campaign, called the latest battle on the rent wars, “disappointing.

These improvements to the rent laws are, in our view, inadequate, and do not begin to approach the kind of meaningful reforms that are necessary to prevent future speculative investing in rent stabilized housing or to protect low and moderate income tenants who are facing displacement pressure and are struggling to remain in their homes and communities.”

Maggie Russell-Ciardi, the executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition, called the reforms a “step in the right direction,” but that the “the Rent Act of 2011 does not go anywhere near far enough, and at best represents a short term, partial solution to the hemorrhaging of rent stabilized units from the system that we are seeing.”

In April, as this fight was heating up, we asked here on Rooflines what the rent regulation climate was like in other markets during the Great Recession. Have you seen a spike in tenant advocacy? What’s your take?

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.


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