Late last week the New York State Legislature struck a deal to renew rent laws protecting 2.5 million tenants. But the minimal improvements in the law will mean further erosion of affordable, rent-regulated housing in NYC.
The deal reached at the end of an otherwise historic State Legislative session -- marked by the breathtaking passage of marriage equality legislation -- extends rent and eviction protections for four more years, thus averting the worst possible outcome: the total elimination of the rent laws and the consequent wave of mass evictions and homelessness.
The deal also included some minor improvements to the rent regulation system, among them an increase of the vacancy destabilization threshold (under which apartments become deregulated) from $2,000 in monthly rent to $2,500 and, for buildings with more than 35 apartments, a change in rules governing individual apartment improvements allowing landlords to increase rents (from 1/40th to 1/60th of the cost) - loopholes that have contributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of rent-regulated apartments.
However, fundamentally, the renewed rent laws fail to address the major weaknesses which were added in 1997 and 2004, when the laws were last renewed, by State Legislators allied to the landlord lobby. Most important, the renewal deal failed to repeal vacancy destabilization entirely and to minimize the vacancy bonuses and allowances that have driven up rents enormously and removed some 300,000 apartments from rent regulation.
Nevertheless, while it is essential to recognize that the renewal deal will require even further work by advocates, tenants, and their Legislative allies, it is also important to see the deal in historical context. Indeed, it is the first time in nearly two decades that New York's rent laws were renewed without further weakening amendments, a significant achievement given the power and influence of the landlord lobby.
This achievement is a testament to the amazing work of the Real Rent Reform campaign and its allies in the State Legislature, in particular NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Black and Latino Caucus. Tenants and homeless New Yorkers can be grateful for their dedication -- and pledge to continue the fight in the coming months and years for even stronger rent laws.
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