Statement from Maggie Russell-Ciardi, Executive Director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition,on the Proposed Framework for Legislation to Renew and Strengthen the Rent LawsDate
: June 23, 2011
Our understanding is that a framework for a bill that would renew and strengthen New York’s rent laws has been
agreed to and that the language that will be included in the bill is currently being finalized.We have heard that the proposed bill would not weaken tenant protections in any way. If this is accurate, it wouldbe the first time that the rent laws have come up for renewal since 1993 that the laws have not been weakenedwhen they were renewed; in 1993, 1997, and 2003, when the rent laws were renewed, the legislature made iteasier to deregulate rent stabilized units and eroded tenant rights.The fact that it appears that the laws will not be weakened in 2011 is extremely significant, especially because wehad been concerned that the legislature would give in to pressure from the landlord lobby and include languagethat would weaken tenant protections in the bill. One concern was that the bill might include language that wouldundermine one or more of the victories tenants have had in the courts in recent years, such as the historic Robertsv Tishman Speyer ruling which said that any deregulation of rent stabilized units that occurred while the ownerwas receiving J-51 tax benefits was unlawful. That this did not happen, despite significant lobbying by the landlordlobby on this issue,
is a testament to the strength of the tenant movement’s organizing efforts and the strong
leadership shown by our allied elected officials.We have also been told that the bill will actually strengthen tenant protections in several ways. What we arehearing is that the bill will: 1) renew the rent laws for either four or five years; 2) raise the threshold for vacancydecontrol to $2500; 3) raise the rent threshold for high rent high income decontrol to $2500 and the incomethreshold to $200,000; 4) limit the number of times a landlord can collect the 20% vacancy bonus to one time peryear; 5) change the rent increase calculation for Individual Apartment Improvement Increases from 1/40 to 1/60 of the cost of the improvements in buildings over a certain size; and 6) if the rent increase from the IndividualApartment Improvement increase adds 10% or more to the legal regulated rent, add a landlord certificationrequirement to the approval process to ensure that the improvements were actually made and that the reportedcost is accurate.These reforms are a step in the right direction. Raising the threshold may slow the rate at which units aredecontrolled, especially in higher rent areas where the average legal regulated rent is over $1600. However, aslong as there is a rent threshold at which apartments can be taken out of rent stabilization upon vacancy, there willbe an incentive for landlords to get rents to that threshold using whatever mechanism there is available to them,including fraudulent increases, which are rampant. That is why the provision in the bill that limits the amount thatlandlords can increase rents though Individual Apartment Improvement increases is so significant. The fact that itappears that that change will be coupled with an increased burden of proof on the landlord to demonstrate thatthe improvements were actually made and that the reported cost is accurate is tremendously significant. Limitingthe number of times that a vacancy bonus can be collected in a year also is helpful, because it will help stop theworst and most unscrupulous landlords from pushing out tenants and turning over apartments as quickly as theycan, and also from fraudulently collecting multiple vacancy bonuses in a year in an apartment that was actually notvacated multiple times.