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Crowd Jeers as Board Proposes Steep Rent Hikes

By DNAinfo Staff on May 4, 2011 6:41am  | Updated on May 4, 2011 9:30am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Rent stabilized tenants booed as a preliminary decision was made Tuesday that could hike the price of their homes by up to nine percent.

The New York City Rent Guidelines Board voted five-to-four to boost rents between three to 5.75 percent for one-year apartment leases, and between six and nine percent for two-year leases.

Its decision was announced amid a chorus of activists' jeers.

"Shame on you! This is a farce!” some screamed. "Greedy people! Liars!" others yelled throughout the proceedings as members representing tenants and landlords faced off over a series of counter-proposals in Cooper Union’s Great Hall.

The approved plan would also add a one percent supplement for oil-heated buildings.

The final increase, to be decided in late June after a series of public hearings, will likely fall on the lower side of the proposed range, said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association of N.Y.C., which represents property owners.

Rent increases have typically hovered between two and four percent in recent years.

Throughout the hearing, members representing building owners argued that operating costs have skyrocketed and said tenants should help to share the burden.

They pointed to one recent study released by the board that found the cost of operating rent-stabilized buildings has increased six percent this year, driven by a 23 percent jump in the cost of fuel oil.

Landlords "desperately need an increase," said owner-member Steven Schleider, who described last year's bump of 2.25 percent for one-year leases and 4.5 percent for two-year leases as "insufficient."

His proposal to boost rents 3.25 to six percent for one-year leases and 6.5 percent to 10 percent for two year leases was rejected by the board, as were a handful of proposals raised by tenant-members, including a zero percent raise on one-year leases and a one percent hike on two-year terms.

Tenant advocates argued that despite higher costs, landlords' profits remain strong and tenants' budgets are already stretched.

"New York City renters are struggling," argued board member and tenant advocate Adriene Holder. "The New York City economy has yet to emerge from recession in a manner sufficient to address renters' sufficient hardships," she said.

The vocal crowd, about 70-strong, couldn’t have agreed more with the assessment and bashed the board for its vote.

"It was disgusting. It was just a set-up," fumed Washington Heights resident Alice Sutter, 63, who has lived in her rent-controlled apartment for more than 30 years.

She said owners are out of touch with the difficulties renters face.

"It’s going to be tremendous suffering and people aren’t going to be able to survive," she said, fearing that some will be forced to choose between paying their rent and buying food.

Musician Don Castagno, 50, said he fears rising rent will eventually drive him out of the East Village apartment he’s lived in for more than 30 years.

He disputed landlords' arguments that higher oil prices merit higher rents, and said tenants should not be forced to bear the brunt.

"It’s just a travesty," he said.

But Strasburg said that, if the board adopts a final hike in the lower end of the proposed range, owners will be shortchanged.

"Clearly, the numbers that they proposed fall below the actual price index that they recognize that owners experienced in the last year," he said.

The board will now hold two public hearings, set for June 16 and June 20, where renters and building owners can weigh in on the plans.

The board will then cast its final vote June 27.