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Rents Frozen for Nearly One Million New Yorkers

By Amy Zimmer | June 28, 2016 7:02am
 The Rent Guidelines Board voted during a meeting at Cooper Union to freeze rents on 1-year leases for rent-stabilized apartments.
The Rent Guidelines Board voted during a meeting at Cooper Union to freeze rents on 1-year leases for rent-stabilized apartments.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — The city’s rent-stabilized tenants will once again see a rent freeze on one-year leases.

The Rent Guidelines Board voted Monday night against any increases on one-year leases and voted for a 2 percent increase on two-year leases, marking a repeat of its vote last year, which was the first time ever the board approved a rent freeze.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed all nine members of the board, heralded the decision as a way to help keep the estimated 1.6 million New Yorkers who are in rent stabilized apartments whose leases are coming due in their homes. He said it will also come as his administration works to preserve roughly 120,000 units of affordable housing over the coming decade.

“We are fighting displacement and protecting affordable housing on every front," de Blasio said in a statement. "From putting shovels in the ground for more affordable housing than any time in 40 years, to increasing free legal services for tenants tenfold, to this rent freeze, we are turning the tide to keep this a city for everyone.”

The vote was 7-0, with two abstentions from members designated to represent landlords’ interests.

Most experts predicted the board would vote for a freeze based on its research that showed that the price of operating rent-stabilized apartments decreased 1.2 percent this year, mostly due to fuel costs decreasing by about 41 percent.

“This year, the facts demanded a rent freeze," de Blasio added. "More than a million people will now have more security and a better shot at making ends meet. And the financial health of our buildings will remain protected because declining fuel costs have offset other expenses. In short, tonight’s decision by the Rent Guidelines Board reflects what’s actually happening in our neighborhoods."

Many tenants and housing advocates who flooded Monday night's meeting at Cooper Union called for a rent rollback, saying that years of increases have over-compensated landlords, while building owners lobbied for rent increases, saying they’re feeling strapped as property taxes rise, along with water and sewer rates. Some landlords have warned the freeze will hurt their ability to properly maintain their properties.

Despite calls for a rent rollback, many housing advocates still called the rent freeze a victory.

"While tonight’s decision by the Rent Guidelines Board was not the rent rollback that many working class New Yorkers have sought and needed, tenants should still feel empowered," said Flatbush City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who for many years worked as a tenant organizer. "For 2 historic years, this board has asked the question of ‘whether there should be an increase?’ before they asked the question of 'how much?’ The answer this year, at least for one type of lease, was thankfully no."

Those who signed two-year leases last year with 2 percent increases may be feeling some pangs of regret as their bets to lock in a 2 percent increase now proved the wrong move for saving money.

The vote affects leases renewed on or after Oct. 1. But many affected tenants may actually see large rent increases when they go to renew their leases after October.

Roughly 28 percent of rent stabilized units — or about 240,000 — are subject to preferential rent, according to Pro Publica.

In these cases, landlords lease rent-stabilized units for less money than they are legally allowed to charge, and a rent freeze could be moot since a landlord can take away the preferential rate — if the lease didn’t specify it would last for the duration of the tenancy — and hike up the rent whenever the lease is renewed.

Because of issues like this and other policies affecting rent regulated housing — like landlord’s ability to raise the rent at least 20 percent when a tenant vacates a unit — the fight to protect affordability is not over, many advocates and elected officials said. 

"Tenants from all over the city voiced their concerns and we are grateful to the Rent Guidelines Board for listening," said Pilar DeJesus of the Rent Justice Coalition, made up of legal services and advocacy groups. "But we will continue the fight to repair years of exorbitant rent increases and to protect New York City's affordable housing."