By Judi Kende, Jolie Milstein and Judith Goldiner
Rent regulation laws were designed to promote housing stability in and around New York City. They are no longer fulfilling that mission effectively.
Starting with a destructive wave of deregulation in the 1990s, loopholes in the laws have driven up rents and resulted in the loss of over 150,000 rent-regulated units in recent decades. Rent-stabilized apartments are the backbone of the housing stock in many neighborhoods across the city, Westchester and Long Island, but far too many renters are now left vulnerable by laws that should be protecting them.
Today, about a third of New York’s 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants pay more than half their income in rent, forcing them to choose between paying for housing and paying for food, health care and more. Now, in the midst of a housing crisis, we cannot afford to lose more apartments within reach of low- and moderate-income families — but that’s exactly what’s at stake.
On June 15, 2019, New York’s rent laws, which cover over 1 million apartments, will expire.
Housing and tenant advocates aren’t always on the same page as developers and owners. We often have different views on the best public policy solutions to the dire housing crisis facing New York. But whether you’re building an apartment for low-income families or living in one, we can all agree that it’s time to reform and strengthen the rent laws that govern the homes — and, too often, the lives — of millions of New Yorkers.
So as state lawmakers consider the future of rent regulation in 2019, we are joining forces to send a few simple messages:
End high-rent vacancy decontrol. Restore preferential rent protections. Reform the provisions governing the vacancy allowance and other rent increase mechanisms. And do it before our state’s rent laws expire in June — or, better yet, immediately after the state budget is released instead of waiting until the last minute.
Our proposal would reverse some of the harmful changes to the rent laws providing crucial protections renters need, without impeding owners’ ability to invest in and maintain this critical source of housing.
High-rent vacancy decontrol allows landlords to take apartments out of rent stabilization after they reach the threshold of $2,733 per month. This has spurred the deregulation of too many homes. The current system encourages the use of both lawful and unlawful means to increase rents and displace long-term tenants in order to reach the threshold.
With regard to preferential rent — which allows landlords to offer units to tenants for a price that’s lower than the legal regulated rent — state lawmakers should return the laws to their pre-2003 form, making it illegal for landlords to revoke a preferential rent upon lease renewal and saddle a resident with a sizable rent hike.
There’s just no need to give building owners that kind of latitude. Tenants shouldn’t have to fear the loss of their homes due to a huge rent increase on their renewal date.
And when it comes to the vacancy allowance, which lets landlords hike rents by 20% every time a tenant leaves, and tools like Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements, which enable landlords to increase rents based on building or in-unit upgrades, lawmakers should change the law to limit price jumps while ensuring owners can still provide safe and decent housing.
Some in Albany may do a double-take when they see housing developers and activists signing on to shared goals for our state rent laws. We hope this serves as an urgent statement of the importance of protecting millions of low-income tenants and taking much-needed steps toward addressing the housing crisis.
Kende is vice president at Enterprise Community Partners. Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. Goldiner is attorney in charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society.