Council Member Jumaane D. Williams hears testimony on strengthening rent regulation laws. Image credit: William Alatriste/New York City Council
Legislation would extend rent stabilization laws for three years and call on state legislature to strengthen existing laws. On March 2, 2015 the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings held a public hearing on Intro 685, a proposed law to amend the city’s administrative code and extend New York City’s existing rent stabilization laws. Intro 685 declares the existence of a “housing emergency,” where the city’s vacancy rate drops below 5 percent, and the declaration is required under the New York City Rent Stabilization Law to extend rent stabilization.
The Committee also heard testimony on a package of resolutions calling on the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to enact legislation that would strengthen the existing rent regulation laws. The package called for reforming Individual Apartment Improvement rent increases, end deregulation of rent regulated apartments, and to repeal provisions of the 1974 Emergency Tenant Protection Act permitting a 20 percent rent increase bonus after a rent-stabilized tenant vacates their unit. The package also called for enacting A.1865 repealing vacancy decontrol, S.2830 to reform Major Capital Improvement rent surcharges, A.398 to provide caps on rent increases in rent-controlled units, S.2828 to prohibit adjusting the amount of preferential rent upon lease renewal of a rent-stabilized unit, and A.344 strengthening protections of Mitchell-Lama and project-based Section 8 developments.
In opening the hearing, Council Member and Committee chair Jumaane D. Williams announced that the preliminary findings of the latest New York City Housing Vacancy Survey showed a vacancy rate of 3.45 percent, well within the 5 percent limit to qualify for a housing crisis. The Council member stated that the city cannot build its way out of the housing crisis and strongly called for the preservation of existing affordable housing by repealing vacancy decontrol, eliminating the vacancy bonus for owners, and maintaining affordability in units that leave Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 programs. “If we really want to accomplish [Mayor Bill de Blasio]’s goals, the rent regulation program is one great way to start that. I personally believe that if we don’t strengthen the rent laws, then tenants have lost. Just extending them is not a success and will not be a win.” Council Member Corey Johnson gave a statement, laying out the challenge as one of preserving economic diversity in the city’s neighborhoods. “Are we going to be a city of luxury housing with part-time residents from around the globe, or are we going to be a city of neighborhoods with families, full-time residents who send their children to our local schools, beautify our blocks, and contribute to the fabric of New York?”
Deputy Mayor of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe began the testimony, reiterating recent calls made by Mayor de Blasio in Albany to both renew and strengthen the city’s rent control laws. Deputy Mayor Wolfe testified Albany’s consideration of legislative proposals would occur after the state budget was adopted, and the Mayor’s specific positions on those proposals would be introduced in the coming weeks. “We will need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Council every step of the way,” said the Deputy Mayor. “The cost of inaction is too great.” Deputy Mayor Wolfe testified the Mayor’s Housing New York plan relies strongly on not only extending but strengthening rent regulations, but could not provide specific positions on preferential rent, IAI, MCI, and other issues addressed in the subject resolutions until the matters are taken up in Albany after the budget is decided. Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. gave his support to the bills at hand, but argued increases in tax assessments and water rates were harming owners of small buildings and 2- and 3-family homes in his district, asking what could be done to help people who don’t want to keep their buildings affordable but still need to pay their bills. Deputy Mayor Wolfe stated the administration shared the Council member’s concerns and requested a direct meeting to discuss solutions.
Council Member Mark Levine asked if there was a role for tenant support in housing court in the Mayor’s Albany agenda, emphasizing landlords that know tenants can’t afford legal counsel and threaten eviction proceedings to intimidate them out of their rent-regulated apartments. Deputy Mayor Wolfe testified Mayor De Blasio called on the state legislature to provide funding for tenant counsel in housing court if the legislature would not enforce rent laws and protect tenants themselves. Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked about his concerns over tenant harassment and negligence in his district. The Council member stated Williamsburg and Bushwick are “second to none” in the levels of harassment seen by neighborhood tenants and alleged members of city agencies were complicit in allowing landlords to delay completing repairs and other work on the apartments until the tenants had moved out. “The rent laws are incapable of taking care of our tenants because of how ridiculous the real estate market is [in Williamsburg and Bushwick].” Deputy Mayor Wolfe testified the previously-mentioned funding request for tenant counsel in housing court would include bringing court actions against negligent and harassing landlords, not only fighting off eviction proceedings.
City Council: Public Hearing Int 0685-2015, Res 0086-2014, Res 0596-2015, Res 0597-2015, T2015-2629, T2015-2630, T2015-2631, T2015-2632, T2015-2633, T2015-2634 (Mar. 02, 2015).
By: Michael Twomey (Michael is a CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2014.)