November 13th, 2018
By Kenneth Lovett
A group representing affordable housing developers is teaming up with low-income tenant activists for the first time to push for rent regulation reforms.
The New York State Association for Affordable Housing — along with groups that include the Legal Aid Society, VOCAL New York, Enterprise Community Partners, AARP, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the New York Housing Conference — sent letters to state leaders urging specific pro-tenant changes when the rent laws expire in June.
The groups are pushing to end what’s known as luxury vacancy decontrol that allows landlords to bring an apartment out of the rent regulation system when it becomes vacant and the monthly rents rise past $2,733.
They are also looking to strip landlords of the power to offer lower, preferential rents to tenants and then revoke it upon lease renewal.
And the new coalition wants to change existing provisions that allow landlords to seek rent hikes based on major capital improvements and individual apartment upgrades. The goal is to tweak the wording so the provisions will work "in a way that reduces excessive rent hikes but ensures that owners can provide safe and decent housing.”
The groups, who are often on opposite sides on housing issues, sent the joint letter to Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), who is set to become Senate majority leader in January.
“We are a broad and diverse coalition of stakeholders, representing hundreds of organizations whose priorities do not always align, but are coming together for the first time with an agreement that we must work together to address this critical issue facing our city and its surrounding communities,” the groups wrote.
The demand for affordable housing in New York and continued loopholes in the rent regulation laws “has led to widespread displacement of tenants and a record-breaking homeless population,” the group said.
“The increasing number of loopholes has also made business increasingly difficult for responsible landlords who rely on long-term tenancy, as surging acquisition prices have made non-speculative purchases financially infeasible,” they wrote.
Tenant activists are hoping that with Democrats set to control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature for the first time in a decade come January, the fight to renew the expiring rent regulation law will be less contentious than in recent decades when the GOP controlled the Senate and, at one point , the governor’s office.
Cuomo, who has been accused by tenant activists and some on the left for putting landlords ahead of renters, said during the campaign he supports doing away with the luxury vacancy decontrol provision.
He has also defended his record on housing, saying he created a tenant protection unit, twice passed rent regulation renewals that strengthened renter protections, and created a $20 billion affordable housing and anti-homelessness program.
"This governor has spent his entire adult life fighting for more affordable housing and we look forward to working with our legislative partners to further strengthen rent laws next year,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.
Stewart-Cousins spokesman Mike Murphy said that “one of the top priorities of a Democratic majority would be strong tenant protections including vacancy decontrol, preferential rent reform and (major capital improvement program) reforms.”
Heastie spokesman Michael Wyland also said strengthening rent regulations “remains a top priority for Assembly Democrats.”