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ALBANY: Don't Set us Back on Tenant Protections

April 1, 2024

ANHD urges Albany to not undermine the transformative Tenant Protection Act of 2019 and reject the Local Regulated Housing Restoration Adjustment legislation (S6352/A6772) being pushed by CHIP, RSA, REBNY, and others in the real estate lobby.

It's been a long 4 ½ years since June, 2019 when the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) transformed New York City’s legal housing landscape, and the daily lives of millions of rent-stabilized tenants. So long that there seems to be some amnesia starting to form about exactly why the tenant movement, with the support of our elected officials, fought for decades to win HSTPA. 

Prior to 2019, rent-stabilized tenants faced widespread and intensive harassment. This harassment was not just a result of malicious landlords, but a response to profit incentives baked directly into the structure of the old rent stabilization laws - baked in over the course of decades by a landlord lobby that had managed to turn a robust system for ensuring affordability, stability, and basic rights for tenants into a pile of swiss cheese. Under the old rent laws, landlords were entitled to vacancy bonuses whenever an apartment turned over to a new tenant. During vacancies, they were also able to claim increases for Individual Apartment Improvements (IAIs) with almost no oversight or accountability. These loopholes created a clear incentive for landlords to drive out existing tenants - especially longtime tenants whose rents were often lower - in order to increase profits. Some activity was so egregious that it led New York State Attorney General Tish James to file a lawsuit in May 2019 that said the the landlord’s “business model was ‘uncover[ing] value’ in rent-stabilized apartments by, among other things, undertaking IAIs in order to deregulate vacant units using high-rent deregulation.”

ANHD strongly opposes S6352/A6772, or the“Local Regulated Housing Restoration Adjustment,” legislation being pushed by CHIP, RSA and REBNY and others in the real estate lobby, which simply recreates the old harassment incentive system under a new guise. The bill would allow landlords to capture windfall profits by removing long-term tenants and replacing them with higher-paying renters – and in turn place the nearly 1.3 million New Yorkers that live in rent-stabilized housing at risk of displacement. 

The bill allows landlords to “reset” aka raise the rents to “Fair Market Rents” (FMR) aka market rates when renting an apartment that goes at least 10 years without a vacancy. This law immediately puts a target on the back of every household that’s been in their apartment for 10 or more years – and we’re talking about over half of rent-stabilized households, or 523,471 families - at immediate risk.  

Analysis from the recent Pratt Center report of what those rent increases will actually look like should alarm us all:

Claiming that the new rent will be negotiated by the landlord and the tenant is a red herring. In a housing market where vacancy is less than 1% for rent-stabilized apartments, landlords hold all the cards, and tenants are already routinely paying more than a third or even more than half of their incomes towards rent. The proposed formula for setting new rents will, in practice, cause huge increases in our precious and already-dwindling affordable housing stock. 

This Real Estate lobby’s bill is a recipe for increased tenant harassment, displacement, and homelessness, and even faster loss of affordability. 

Many of ANHD’s members own and operate buildings and we are mindful about the realities of increasing costs of operating an affordable housing unit. Modest adjustments to the IAI cap – based on demonstrated need and not profit motive – as part of a broader package of affordable housing and tenant protection measures, is a conversation we can have with those operating in good faith.

The State should pass the Housing Access Voucher Program and these vouchers could be made available for units or buildings facing hardship, while still ensuring affordability. And amending Section 610 of the Private Housing Finance Law would allow for owners to submit a hardship application to HCR where they can charge up to the fair market rent as long as a voucher holder resides in the unit.

But recreating a landscape of routine tenant harassment and hiking up rents by thousands of dollars is a non-starter. We can’t afford to go back to the bad old days. 

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