New York City landlords could soon be required to provide tenants with free internet access. Like heat and hot water, a new bill proposes that broadband internet should come at no extra cost to residential tenants.
The bill—introduced by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos last week—would require owners of buildings with 10 or more residential units, to provide free broadband internet service. Further, all new construction in the city would have to be wired for internet.
Landlords would be permitted to negotiate bulk contracts with internet service providers or connect each unit separately via ethernet cable. Regardless of which option landlords choose, the bill forbids them from charging tenants for the costs of installing the necessary wiring and ports.
Pro-landlord groups warn that such a mandate will have the same effect as when the New York state legislature put stricter limits on charging tenants for maintenance and capital expenditures. When New York City's Rent Guidelines Board capped the allowable rent increases, critics warned that building owners cut maintenance spending, leading to "shabbification."
“The cliche term ‘there is no free lunch’ applies perfectly to rent stabilized apartment buildings,” said Community Housing Improvement Program’s Jay Martin. “Every mandate, every regulation, every ‘free’ requirement pushes the cost to operate them higher. That forces owners to increase rents/provide weaker quality housing.” As for unregulated apartments, Martin thinks landlords will just include the costs of internet service in rent increases.
Council Member Kallos, however, stressed the importance of this bill, noting that it was time to treat the internet like any other utility, “because, without it, there's a digital divide. You can't get a vaccine if you can't get online to schedule or even find an appointment, this pandemic has shown that the Internet is now a necessity.”
For building owners who can demonstrate financial need, Kallos’ bill provides that the city can provide grants, loans, tax abatements, and other incentives to cover the related costs. If enacted into law, owners of existing buildings would have until January 2026 to comply.