Final push for rent regs

Time is running out for New York State’s existing rent regulation laws to be renewed and expanded. Downtown and citywide housing advocates, fearing the law’s looming expiration date in mid-June, are lobbying day in and day out for the cause.

The Real Rent Reform Campaign, made up of 60-plus organizations from around the city, is stepping it up, making weekly trips to Albany and hosting frequent demonstrations around the city to lobby for rent regulation reform. The groups are also launching an initiative later this week named “Cuomoville,” setting up tents around the city to notify Gov. Andrew Cuomo that, if rent protections aren’t continued, people will end up homeless and on the streets.

The rent regulation laws must not only be extended but bolstered, according to the advocates, by repealing vacancy decontrol, closing rent increase loopholes, and abolishing the 1971 Urstadt Law, which prohibits the city from adopting stricter rent oversight rules than those enacted by the state.

There are approximately 48,100 rent-regulated apartments in Manhattan south of 14th St., according to the U.S. Census’s 2008 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey. A comparison of Census surveys from 2000 and 2007 reveal that 17 percent of all low-income units in the area have been lost, along with some 16 percent of middle-income units.

“We can’t let it get to June 15 – if we wait, we’re in the worst possible negotiating position,” said Maggie Russell-Ciardi, executive director of the NY State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, a grassroots tenants union that testified at a May 9 City Council hearing held at 250 Broadway.

It was a big disappointment, Russell-Ciardi and others said, that rent reform wasn’t included in the state’s 2011-12 budget.

Tenants Downtown and citywide are dreading the ramifications of Albany’s inaction. Colin Harris, who moved into a rent-stabilized apartment at 41 Essex St. in April, is afraid he might be ousted from his apartment once the monthly rent reaches $2,000 per month (When charging monthly rents of $2,000 or more, landlords are entitled to remove apartments from rent regulation. The citywide rent-stabilized vacancy rate is now at around 2.9 percent. Anything below five percent qualifies as a housing emergency.)

Harris, who testified at the hearing, spoke to the importance of preserving the rent laws. “I’m in love with Chinatown — it’s one of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan that hasn’t lost some of its old flavor,” he said. “In a year or two years, as prices are sure to increase in this neighborhood, [the people who built the community] could be facing much higher rents and be forced to move out.”

Tenants are also being driven out of their homes when living conditions become intolerable. In some cases, unsafe renovations lead to residents’ exposure to asbestos, lead, paint, dust and other toxins, according to tenant George Tzannes, who has lived on E. 6th Street between Aves. A and B for nearly four decades.

Tzannes took his landlord, Steven Croman, to court after Croman ignored his requests to deal with dust build-up in his apartment he says was caused by lead contamination in the vacant unit below his.

Now, Tzannes is facing eviction for legal fees and rent arrears amounting to $15,000 that he claims to have paid.

“When the nature and onset of extensive renovations are unknown to building residents, there is very limited opportunity for tenants to prevent their apartments and public areas of the building from becoming contaminated once work begins,” he said at the hearing.

The lack of enforcement of safe building practices, he added, is yet another loophole for landlords inflate rent charges after making incomplete or unsafe improvements, or to avoid maintenance costs altogether. “The landlord strategy is to ware down the tenant’s assets so they leave or go broke,” he said.

Politicians are also becoming proactive in the fight for legislation to protect tenants. In late March, District One Councilmember Margaret Chin introduced a resolution in support of the renewal and modification of the state law.

Rent regulation is a foothold for working families, single parents, recent immigrants and seniors, without which they couldn’t afford to live in the city, Chin said. “We all know that predatory landlords have a history of harassing long-term tenants in an effort to end rent protections in their buildings,” she said. “If we allow rent regulations and eviction protection to expire, we will be condoning this activity.”

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also passed a bill through the Assembly in hopes of “keep[ing] thousands of our Downtown families from being priced out of our community,” he said.

A group of Chinatown residents gathered along Hester St. on Sunday to rally against widespread evictions by landlords of apartments at 11 Allen St., 54 Eldridge St. and 55 Delancey St. Real Rent Reform Campaign members will be hosting rallies in front of Cuomo’s midtown city office on May 16; and in Albany starting on May 24 and each week thereafter until mid-June.

Article BY Aline Reynolds

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6 Responses to Final push for rent regs

  1. What about the market rate tenants like us who will be absolutely screwed over by this?nnnThe proposed modifications to the rent laws by RRR will encourage landlords to take units off the market, turn them into condos, or otherwise make the rental market even tighter, nastier, and more expensive for the rest of us, especially the free market renters.nnnWhy should rich tenants making oodles of bucks be entitled to historical rents when new residents of the city bunk four to a room in illegal lofts in Bushwick? The existing system isn't fair as it is, but it is a lot better than it was 10 years ago when there were a lot fewer free-market units for rent.nnnnnJoin us in our fight for Housing Equality — support http://www.facebook.com/nycrenters or nycrenters at gmailnnnNYC Renters' Alliance for Housing Choicennnn

  2. Has anyone heard about the NY Citywide Rent Strike movement to force the real estate and landlord interests to pressure Albany to end high rent vacancy decontrol and adopt an emergency affordable housing program to confront the pending homelessness disaster? n

  3. Regulated tenant

    The question is not why market rate tenants pay high rents while "rich" regulated tenants pay low rents. The question is why do market rate tenants have no rent protections and have to pay high rents that have no relationship to landlord costs, but do to the fact that they can ask what ever they want. If a couple can't afford the high rent then two couples together can. While there are cases of a rich person having a low rent regulated apartment, the income of the average regulated tenant in NYC is under $40,000. a year.n

    • In the real world, this isn't as much of an issue as you might think. Landlords can ask for the sun and the moon, but as long as there are other apartments to move to, they aren't going to get it. My landlord tried this a few months ago and wound up eating 2 months' vacancy. Apart from that unit, average tenure in the building is 10+ years, and vacancy decontrol has abated the housing crisis somewhat versus 10 or 11 years ago. nnnAs for landlord costs, who cares? People buy coffee for 10x the price of making it themselves, and they are happy about it. If landlords are making lots of money, developers will step in and build new housing, so long as the city allows it — this is EXACTLY what has happened over the past 10 years.nnnnWe know that the _AVERAGE_ rent regulated tenant makes 40k or so. We just see no reason to protect the 1% of them who often make incredible amounts of money, and we don't feel that you should be able to 'inherit' an apartment lease — these are unfair later, younger arrivals.nnnLikewise, vacancy decontrol doesn't affect YOUR apartment — it just means that instead of a corrupt 'key money' process with an insanely high brokerage fee, you'll be able to walk up and rent your next apartment easily if you choose to move.nnnnnn

  4. Taylor Leake

    I'm working with State Senator Adams to renew the rent laws and strengthen the system to protect working and middle class New Yorkers. Can you help by signing his petition over at Change.org: http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-cuomo-ke

  5. Barbara Paolucci

    Oil prices are falling, so are prices for gasoline.u00a0 The rush to level rent increases that are outrageously high are premature at the very least.u00a0 There's no reason to provide landlords with windfall profits.u00a0 There's every reason to strengthen the rent laws and protect more apartments.u00a0 When the average rent in Manhattan for just plain regular folks is in the $2,500 to $3,500 range for one bedroom apartments you know that landlords have gotten away wtih far too much.u00a0 Its time they tooku00a0 a hit for a change.

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