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Governor Cuomo Must do More to Strengthen the State Housing Agency

January 17, 2012

In his State of the State speech last week, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a new unit within the Housing and Community Renewal (HCR) agency, the state agency that oversees rent regulation. The new unit, called the Tenant Protection Unit, will be charged with proactively investigating landlord fraud and abuse of rent regulation, using system-wide data and patterns of complaints to find landlords who regularly circumvent the law in order to illegally exploit rent increase loopholes. ANHD applauds this important step forward. For too long the HCR’s approach to enforcement has been overly passive and complaint-driven. But, the Governor must do more to get the heart of the problem of the loss of affordable rent-regulated housing. Fraudulent abuse of the rent laws is a problem, but as ANHD showed in our report, The $20,000 Stove, most affordable housing in our city is lost, not because of out-and-out illegal fraud, but because the HCR has chosen though internal policy to make certain rent increase loopholes as wide and unsupervised as possible. The Governor must instruct the HCR to immediately issue internal rules to change this. In fact, the Rent Act legislation which was passed this past summer and made some progress strengthening the rent laws also included language specifically directing the agency to issue internal “rules and regulations to implement and enforce all provisions of this act and any law renewed or continued by this act.” Pro-tenant lawmakers were told that the HCR intended to follow the directive of this act and issue new regulations. To date, no regulations have been issued. Not only does the HCR’s current enforcement structure not go far enough to stem the catastrophic loss of affordable housing in our communities, it may be so weak that it provides landlords with incentives to deregulate apartments, both legally and illegally. There are four general categories of common-sense regulatory improvements that are needed to tighten loopholes in the laws that encourage the loss of affordable housing. First, the Governor should instruct his agency to more effectively oversee the loophole that allows unwarranted and often fraudulent rent increases based the amount of money spent to improve a vacant apartment, which it is now clear is the greatest single factor driving the rapid inflation of rents and the single greatest threat to affordability. Second, the Governor should increase oversight of building-wide improvement rent increases. Third, the Governor should strengthen the integrity of the rent regulation system by imposing a penalty on landlords who fail to register apartments with the housing agency. Lastly, the Governor should revise existing regulations to protect the succession rights of legitimate family members right to stay in their home. The Governor must make the decision to protect tenants and affordable housing. Strengthening the regulations of his state housing agency will make our city and all our communities stronger.

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