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Rent Hikes as High as 4 Percent On Table After Board Vote

By  Allegra Hobbs and Amy Zimmer | April 26, 2017 7:36am 

 Tenants and advocates called for a freeze or rollback for rent stabilized units.
Tenants and advocates called for a freeze or rollback for rent stabilized units.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — Tenants in rent-stabilized apartments aren’t likely to see a rent freeze for the third year in a row.

The Rent Guidelines Board cast its preliminary vote Tuesday, recommending raising rents for one-year leases between 1 percent to 3 percent, and 2 percent to 4 percent on two-year leases.

Following a series of public hearings, the board will make its final decision June 27 at Cooper Union. The changes will take effect on all lease renewals after Oct. 1, 2017.

The board based its proposal on research that showed, for instance, the price of operating costs for rent-stabilized buildings jumped in 2016 more than 6 percent, with fuel costs rising nearly 25 percent.

The upward trend of operating costs marked a stark difference from the past two years — when the board decided to freeze rents. Costs those years were stable or dipped, driven largely by big drops in fuel costs.

The board’s recommendations fell short of what landlords wanted. It left tenants and housing advocates — dozens of whom rallied in the rain outside the Great Hall at Cooper Union in the East Village prior to the vote — disappointed.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, called for a 4 percent increase on one-year leases and an 8 percent hike on two-year leases. The group said the rent freeze has hurt owners’ ability to maintain their buildings.

Lourdes de la Cruz, of the South Bronx, said she would be devastated by such a severe hike.

“I pay $1,405 a month in rent,” said de la Cruz. “This increase means … I would have to reduce my expenses and other necessities, basic necessities, in other areas of my life.”

Many tenants and advocates from the Rent Justice Coalition demanded the board not only freeze rent again, but enact a rent rollback equal to the increase being requested by landlords.

Tenants have suffered years of brutal rent hikes before the two-year freeze, said Pilar DeJesus, of the Urban Justice Center.

She also noted that since the Rent Guidelines Board’s vote only applies to the city’s rent-stabilized units, not rent-controlled apartments, landlords have still been able to increase rents on those apartments — up to 7.5 percent.   

“[Landlords] are making profits and tenants are suffering, and they’ve been suffering since the recession,” said DeJesus. “It’s either pay for food or you pay for rent.”

The Legal Aid Society also issued a statement on the vote.

"Tonight’s vote is deeply disappointing. Board members must have a foggy memory of landlords cashing in with big increases for twelve consecutive years under the previous Administration," said Adriene Holder, Attorney-In-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society and former tenant member of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. "Given that necessary context, the freezes of the previous two years have only begun to provide some breathing room for rent-strapped tenants."

Rent-controlled units are in 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. Rent stabilization tends to cover apartments in buildings that were constructed before 1974 with six or more units, and apartments in some buildings with three or more units that were built or renovated with special tax benefits since 1974.

The board’s report on affordability notes that rent-stabilized tenants face a high financial burden, with more than a third of tenants paying half their income on rent.