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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