Heard Around Town

Progressive NYC elected officials to Albany: No rent law rollbacks

City Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and 19 City Council members said they “oppose any measures to weaken New York’s rent stabilization system.”

New York City Public Advocate is arrested alongside tenant advocates while blocking the entrance to the headquarters of the Real Estate Board of New York in Manhattan on April 4, 2024.

New York City Public Advocate is arrested alongside tenant advocates while blocking the entrance to the headquarters of the Real Estate Board of New York in Manhattan on April 4, 2024. Bingjiefu He/Housing Justice for All

In a letter shared exclusively with City & State, 21 elected officials in New York City are demanding that state leaders not rollback any part of the 2019 rent stabilization laws in any housing deal included as part of the budget. 

The letter is addressed to Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and legislators, and signed by city Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and 19 Council members – including nearly every member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. 

“We are writing to firmly oppose any measures to weaken New York’s rent stabilization system, an important source of affordable housing for working families across New York City,” the letter reads. “Instead, we urge you to pass a comprehensive housing package in the budget this year that increases housing production, strengthens tenant protections, authorizes rental vouchers for homeless and low-income families, and preserves existing affordable housing.”

City & State reported this week that some rollbacks to the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act were on the negotiating table as state leaders finalize a deal to address the state’s housing crisis. Heastie confirmed specifically that changes to individual apartment improvements are being discussed to address concerns from landlords over the cost of getting vacant units market-ready. But he pushed back against the characterization that officials were entertaining rollbacks to the landmark rent laws, saying that old provisions that allowed stabilized units to be brought out of rent regulation are not being considered.

For weeks, Albany leaders have been negotiating a housing package that would include a new tax incentive for developers to build affordable housing in New York City and tenant protections for renters across the state. The letter from city officials also called for “good cause” eviction protections. “We must also strengthen protections for tenants who are not protected by rent regulation, who are at risk of displacement amidst the highest asking rents in New York’s history,” the letter reads. 

Stewart-Cousins and Heastie have been adamant about the inclusion of tenant protections, though real estate groups and landlords oppose the “good cause” legislation. Meanwhile, labor and developers have been attempting to reach a wage deal for tax incentive developments with little success. Still, all three leaders have expressed optimism in recent days that a deal is close despite blowing past the budget deadline.

Prior to 2019, landlords could significantly and permanently increase rents on rent-stabilized apartments on which they made major modifications or repairs. The current law effectively eliminated that benefit by capping repair expenditures eligible for rent increases to $15,000, limiting how much landlords can raise the rent by and making those rent increases temporary. 

Tenant advocates argued that the old system was easy for landlords to manipulate and abuse, and incentivized landlords to harass tenants out of rent-stabilized housing so that they could then jack up the rent by making “improvements” whose costs were often inflated. But landlords have said that since the 2019 reforms, they have not been able to afford to make improvements to vacant rent-stabilized apartments that are necessary to get them back on the market.

The letter from the city elected officials cited a March report from Lander’s office, which found that only a small number of rent stabilized apartments are currently sitting vacant due to landlords’ inability to do necessary repairs. That report found no evidence that the 2019 rent law led to an increase in vacancies in New York City or contributed to distress to the city’s stabilized housing stock. “Significant rollbacks of HSTPA would be an outsized response that would do far more harm than good,” the letter reads. “We simply can’t afford to lose a single affordable unit within our city.”

Landlords released their own study in February concluding that the 2019 rent law had “disastrous” effects on rent-stabilized landlords. It found that longterm vacancies have gone up since 2018 and that small property owners in particular have seen higher vacancy rates. The report found that 30% of all respondents – and an even higher percentage of large property owners who primarily owned rent-stabilized units – cited the financial infeasibility of repairs as a reason for apartments remaining vacant.

Although the letter from city officials opposes any measures to “weaken” the 2019 rent laws, the report from Lander recommended a nominal increase to the individual apartment improvement spending cap, from $15,000 to $25,000, with subsequent annual increases to the cap pegged to inflation. Some tenant advocates have offered support for tweaking permissible rent increases for apartment repairs to account for inflation. State Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh also previously signaled that he would support a minor increase to the allowable rent increases to account for inflation while opposing any more significant changes to the 2019 law.

Legislative leaders included raising the cap on individual apartment improvements in a joint press release on a two-way housing deal at the end of the 2023 legislative session that never actually came to pass. The specific details of that package were never released, as leaders blamed the governor for failing to agree to the compromise.

Real estate groups have backed significantly raising the cap on individual apartment improvements and making them permanent. New York Focus reported this week that the Real Estate Board of New York has proposed raising the cap as high as $150,000 for recoupable repairs on stabilized units.

The Community Housing Improvement Program, an industry group representing landlords of rent-stabilized units, has pushed for a different method of permitting landlords to raise rents on vacant apartments to make needed repairs. The group has pushed for legislation known as the Local Regulated Housing Restoration Adjustment, which would allow landlords to raise the stabilized rent of apartments vacated by tenants of at least 10 years to federally-determined local voucher rates. “A small IAI increase will not solve this problem and will not help,” Martin has said in recent posts on X. The legislation would not deregulate any apartment and subsequent rent increases would still be subject to restrictions. The Real Estate Board of New York has not offered support for that specific legislation, but it has backed a similar proposal, according to City Limits.

The landlord-back pitches to raise rents on vacant apartments have faced staunch backlash from tenant advocates and legislators like Assembly Housing Committee Chair Linda Rosenthal.