New York City

Tenants rights protesters storm stage during NYC rent board meeting

City Council members joined a dramatic demonstration to stop rent increases amid a citywide affordability crisis. The board ultimately recommended 2-5% increases for one-year leases and 4-7% increases for two-year leases.

Protesters, including from left City Council Members Sandy Nurse, Shahana Hanif, Chi Ossé and Tiffany Cabán, circled the board as they attempted to hold their meeting.

Protesters, including from left City Council Members Sandy Nurse, Shahana Hanif, Chi Ossé and Tiffany Cabán, circled the board as they attempted to hold their meeting. Annie McDonough

Tuesday’s meeting of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board showed the difference an in-person meeting makes. The meeting, which was held to vote on a preliminary range of potential rent increases – or rollbacks – for rent-stabilized tenants, was disrupted by tenant advocates and progressive City Council members calling for a decrease or freeze in allowable rent adjustments for rent-stabilized tenants. 

From the start, Board Chair Nestor Davidson’s attempts to start the meeting were drowned out by chants of “rent rollbacks” and “shame on you.” The chants persisted throughout the meeting as Davidson attempted to speak over them. (The meeting was held remotely last year, and was notably less eventful.)

Protesters including City Council Members Chi Ossé, Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Shahana Hanif and Alexa Avilés eventually stormed the stage, circling the board members with signs reading “Housing over profit.”

Barely audible over the shouts of the protestors, the board voted to recommend a 2-5% increase for one-year leases and 4-7% for two-year leases. The board voted 5-4 to approve.

The preliminary vote is just an initial step laying out a potential range. But it’s typically been indicative of where the board will land in approving a final set of allowable increases sometime in June, with the change set to go into effect on Oct. 1. In every year since 2004, the final increases approved by the board have fallen somewhere in the preliminary guidelines voted on at this stage of the process.

Though the progressive lawmakers and tenants put up a formidable protest at the meeting, the vote suggested that a majority of the board members aren’t ready to approve the rent rollback or freeze that tenants are looking for. Still, those lawmakers said they weren’t ready to give up. “I think we need to continue showing up, making ourselves heard and standing by the people and pushing back against the potential increases,” Ossé said after the vote.

The Rent Guidelines Board is made up of mayoral appointees, with two of its nine members meant to represent owner interests, two meant to represent tenant interests, and the other five meant to represent the public. The board still includes a handful of appointees from former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, but Mayor Eric Adams has now appointed six of the board’s members. Ahead of a July 1 deadline to approve allowable rent adjustments, the board will hold public meetings where New Yorkers can testify, before holding a final vote. 

The process of deciding on rent adjustments for stabilized apartments comes amid a housing and affordability crisis in New York City, and on the heels of a state budget that dropped the issue of housing creation and tenant protections entirely. A state law passed in 2019 made it harder for landlords to deregulate, or remove vacant apartments from the rent-stabilized stock. Though as The City reported last year, the number of registered rent-stabilized apartments has still declined, apparently in part because of a delay in registering them.

Some affordable housing advocates and progressive City Council members had already called for a rent freeze this year in light of those conditions. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams hasn’t directly called for a rent freeze, but in a joint statement with Housing and Buildings Committee Chair Pierina Sanchez ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the council leader warned against continuing to “erode (the) affordability” of rent-stabilized apartments. “Tonight’s Rent Guidelines Board vote on a preliminary range of rent increases takes place against the backdrop of a citywide housing and affordability crisis, where median rents have skyrocketed to their highest levels,” Speaker Adams’ and Sanchez’s statement read. “We urge the board to account for these economic realities, avoiding proposed increases that are counterproductive to New Yorkers persevering beyond our housing challenges.” The statement did not reference landlords.

Landlords have pointed to their rising operating costs in calling for rent increases, with some calling for larger increases than the preliminary range approved on Tuesday. “It is outrageous that this board is proposing ranges far below what their own data says is needed to maintain the city's largest segment of affordable housing,” Michael Tobman, director of membership and communications of the Rent Stabilization Association – a group representing landlords – said in an emailed comment after the vote.

Screengrab NYC Rent Guidelines Board

Last year, in Eric Adams’ first year in office, the board approved increases of 3.25% for one-year leases and 5% for two-year leases. The vote marked the highest approved increase since 2013. Under de Blasio, New York City saw several years of rent freezes for one-year leases – including during the COVID-19 pandemic – and lower increases for two-year leases. 

The board is meant to be independent, but that doesn’t stop mayors from making public comments about the climate for renters and landlords. Last year, Adams spoke to the concerns of both renters and smaller landlords, and publicly urged the board to approve increases at the lower end of the preliminary range laid out by the board, though it ultimately approved increases in the middle of that spectrum. 

In an emailed statement after the vote on Tuesday, Adams took the same approach. “I recognize that property owners face growing challenges maintaining their buildings and accessing financing to make repairs; at the same time, we simply cannot put tenants in a position where they can’t afford to make rent,” the statement read. “Members of the (Rent Guidelines Board) are tasked with making independent decisions based on all available data. However, I hope they will look at options below the top of these preliminary ranges to strike the right balance to keep New Yorkers in their homes while providing building owners with the resources they need to provide safe, high-quality homes.”

The members of the Rent Guidelines Board weigh a variety of factors and testimony before arriving at and voting on potential increases. Those factors include estimates laid out in reports produced by the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board based on data about operating costs, inflation and housing supply, for example.