Sweeping Assembly legislation protects tenants, strengthens New York’s rent regulation

April 11, 2011
Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D-Flatbush) announced the passage of comprehensive legislation strengthening New York’s rent-regulation laws and protecting Mitchell-Lama tenants in the event of a buyout (A.2674-A). The bill encompasses many of the measures championed by the Assembly in previous years, and extends current rent-regulation laws until June 15, 2016.

“With the economy still recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, it’s crucial we ensure that already cash-strapped tenants aren’t forced out of their homes due to skyrocketing rents,” Jacobs said. “Strengthening rent-regulation laws and putting oversight mechanisms in place to protect tenants from unfair rent hikes will help keep our communities together.”

Under the Urstadt Law, New York City is prohibited from strengthening rent-regulation provisions any further than state law provides. The Assembly’s legislation would remove this hindrance and allow New York City greater control over its own rent-regulation laws.

Another provision in the Assembly’s legislation would repeal vacancy decontrol laws that permit landlords to remove apartments from rent-regulation in New York City when the apartment becomes vacant. Under current law, when tenants in a rent-regulated apartment move out and the apartment rent is over $2,000 per month, the newly vacated unit is no longer subject to rent regulations.

“The vacancy decontrol laws have made it next to impossible for working families to find affordable housing,” said Jacobs. “This unfortunate loophole has essentially opened a Pandora’s Box of unethical housing practices — it gives building owners and landlords an incentive to drive out existing tenants in rent-regulated apartments so they can charge an exorbitant rent to the next tenant.”

The Assembly’s measure would also extend rent-stabilization protections to Mitchell-Lama buildings constructed after Jan.1, 1974, by authorizing localities to declare a housing emergency in these buildings following a buyout.

Additionally, the legislation would:

  • allow a building owner to increase the amount of preferential rent — rent that is lower than the legal maximum rent the owner could charge — only upon vacancy;
  • limit a building owner’s ability to recover a rent-regulated apartment for personal use to one unit, and prevent a landlord from recovering an apartment rented by a long-term tenant or senior;
  • reduce the amount of rent increase after a vacancy from 20 percent to 10 percent and limit the number of allowable increases to one per year;
  • limit individual apartment improvement rent increases to 1/60th of the cost of the improvement – which are currently allowed at 1/40th – and establish review processes by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal;
  • allow former federal Section 8 housing properties to be subject to rent regulation even if constructed after January 1974;
  • require the costs of major capital improvements to be charged to tenants as a surcharge, not as part of the base rent, and require the surcharges to cease when the cost of the improvement has been recovered; and
  • extend from three years to six years the length of time a landlord must own the rental property before the owner is eligible to apply for a hardship rent adjustment.

“This multi-faceted legislation will help to ensure that tenants are treated fairly and can afford to stay in their homes. Our Brooklyn community is a cultural epicenter that will continue to flourish so long as families can continue to afford living in our neighborhoods,” concluded Jacobs.