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Rent-Controlled Tenants Face 'Devastating' Rate Hike

By Amy Zimmer | November 17, 2015 7:27am
 Upper West Sider Sam Weiskopf, 78, is a rent controlled tenant. The retired salesman is living off of savings.
Upper West Sider Sam Weiskopf, 78, is a rent controlled tenant. The retired salesman is living off of savings.
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DNAInfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — While their rent-stabilized counterparts are enjoying an unprecedented rent freeze, tenants of the roughly 33,000 rent-controlled units in New York City are about to face as much as a 7.5 percent rent hike.

Rent-controlled apartments, many of which are occupied by elderly New Yorkers, are governed by the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), unlike the city's roughly 1 million rent-stabilized units which are overseen by the city's Rent Guidelines Board.

DHCR, which is holding a hearing on the increase this week, is expected to pass a rent hike, provoking outrage among many housing advocates and those living in the rent-controlled apartments.

“This is just devastating,” said Lucy Levy, 62, a rent-controlled tenant who lives in Greenwich Village, adding that she and others could be facing steep monthly rental hikes.

She laid the blame on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, since DHCR is a state agency.

“It is Cuomo's duty to address these inequities and he has repeatedly and willfully failed to do so,” Levy said, adding that the Rent Guidelines board froze rates "based on the same economic conditions and many of the same factors as we rent-control tenants are subject to.”

Delsenia Glover, with the advocacy group Tenants & Neighbors, said she fears the rent hikes could force some tenants into dire straits.

“We are in what I call an emergency situation,” Glover said. “Considering this population is an aging population on fixed income [who] over time become indigent because of these rent increases. If anybody needs a [rent] freeze, it’s these people.”

But because there are only approximately 33,000 rent-controlled units in New York City, according to filings with the Office of Rent Administration, Glover believes there’s little political will to hear the voices of rent-controlled tenants.

Although rent increases for rent controlled units are capped at 7.5 percent a year unless there are "major capital improvements," DHCR votes every two years on increases for rent-controlled tenants that can exceed that amount.

Earlier this month, the agency proposed a 9.6 percent increase, which would be spread out over two years along with any residual rent hikes from subsequent years that landlords are essentially allowed to bank.

Rent control applies to buildings constructed before 1947 and units occupied by a tenant and, in some cases, their relatives, spouses or life partners who have lived there continuously since before July 1, 1971.

To raise rent on rent-controlled tenants, landlords must apply to DHCR. Landlords cannot have any violations on their building and applications can be challenged if the landlord fails to adequately maintain the property or essential services like heat and hot water.

Landlords in 2014 filed applications for increases in 6,347 buildings, of which 5,728 were granted, according to DHCR.

The agency will hold a hearing on the proposal on Nov. 19 but many believe it’s just a formality, said Glover, whose organization is staging a rally before Thursday morning’s hearing Downtown at 22 Reade Street.

DHCR did not immediately respond for comment.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, said that the costs of operating buildings plus real estate taxes and water and sewer charges add up. They said without increases, it’s hard for landlords to properly maintain their properties.