Rent Stabilized Tenants Prepare to Protest Hike Vote Tuesday

By Jill Colvin on May 1, 2012 12:50pm 

Tenant advocates waved homemade signs at the Rent Guidelines Board's public session Monday at the Cooper Union.
Tenant advocates waved homemade signs at the Rent Guidelines Board's public session Monday at the Cooper Union.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

NEW YORK — It's time to brace for a rent hike.

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board, which sets rates for the city’s one million rent-stabilized apartments, is set to cast its preliminary vote on increases Tuesday night.

The typically raucous hearings pit tenant groups against landlords as the board decides how much rents can legally climb in the coming year, based on owners' rising costs and other factors.

This year’s meetings are likely to be particularly rowdy with a large showing by Occupy Wall Street protesters, who are planning to "Occupy the RGB" as part of Tuesday's May Day demonstrations.

No rent-hike numbers have been formally proposed, but a report released by the board last month floated several possibilities ranging from 1.5 percent to 3.75 percent for one-year leases, and 2 percent to 6 percent for two year leases.

The rent board's executive director, Andrew McLaughlin, stressed that it's up to members to decide on final numbers and that numerous factors are taken into consideration, including tenants' ability to pay.

Last year, the board voted 5-to-4 to increase one-year leases by 3.75 percent and two-year leases by 7.25 percent, triggering jeers from tenants.

Jack Freund, executive vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association of N.Y.C., which represents property owners, said landlords are being forced to shoulder a raft of rising costs.

They include higher water and sewer charges, increased property taxes, and "unfunded government mandates," such as installing backflow-prevention devices on water pipes that can cost tens of thousands of dollars in larger buildings, he said.

"Somebody has got to foot the bill and it's property owners that are being asked to pay," he said.

The association is pushing for a hike of 5 percent for one-year leases and 9 percent for two-year leases, plus a bonus for oil-heated buildings, he said.

Tenants’ advocates say that's far too high.

Sam Stein, an organizer at the Chelsea-based New York State Tenants & Neighbors association, which is planning a protest ahead of the hearing, urged the board to resist a hike this year since he said the board routinely overestimates owners' costs.

In 2010, for example, he said the board projected an increase of 5.5 percent — yet costs ended up rising less than 1 percent.

"We think it’s time to correct that balance and start with a rent freeze," said Stein, adding that tenants continue to struggle with high unemployment and reduced hours.

"The vacancy rates continue to be at emergency levels. It’s very difficult for tenants to find alternative housing," he said.

After Tuesday's vote, the board will hold two public hearings on June 13 and June 18. The rent board is set to cast its final vote June 21. If a rent hike is approved, it would kick in on Oct. 1.

Tuesday's preliminary vote will take place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall at 7 E. 7th St. at 5:30 p.m.

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