The tenant, who asked not to be identified by name, received a letter from her landlord, as the law requires, 90 days before she would be required to renew her lease. This letter informed her that if she chose to continue her lease, her rent would go up two percent if she chose a one-year extension, or four percent if she chose a two-year extension. Confused and concerned by the conflict this information presented with the New York City Rent Guidelines Board's decision to implement a rent freeze, she approached Assemblyman Farrell for help.
After speaking with Assembly staff in Albany, Assemblyman Farrell clarified how rent increases operate in this tenant's case. Under the Rent Guidelines Board's currently applicable rent increase guidelines (which apply to new and renewal leases between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015), her landlord can only raise the rent by one percent for a one-year lease and 2.75 percent for a two-year lease. Because her renewal falls before September 30 of this year, she will not be able to take advantage of the rent increase guidelines issued on June 29; however, they will apply to her next renewal.
Assemblyman Farrell then informed the tenant how rent increases would work in her case. If she chose the one-year lease renewal now, her rent would increase by one percent for the next year, until the lease expires in 2016. However, if she again chose a one-year renewal when her lease expires in 2016, the rent would remain the same. It would only increase if she chose, at that time, to renew for two years at the two percent increase.
"Taking the time to help tenants understand and fight for their rights is something I have always done even before the beginning of my career in the Legislature," Assemblyman Farrell said. "Tenants who live in the 71st Assembly District are always welcome to visit my staff or myself in the District Office to learn what their rights are under the Rent Laws. If you have any questions about the new Rent Laws or any other subject, please feel free to call my District Office at (212) 234-1430."
Hello. My name is Earnestine Bell-Temple. I am a District Leader in the 71st Assembly District, which includes Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, and I am speaking before you today on behalf of Assemblyman Denny Farrell. He is required to be in Albany for the Legislative Session today, but has asked me to read the following on behalf of his constituents, who are urgently in need of the assistance and justice that you may provide.
Please allow me to say, clearly and immediately: no rent increase this year. As a matter of fact, you must reduce the rents. People are struggling and suffering. You can, and must, help them.
Costs go up. That is what they do. It is a part of life, and we all accept that. But, in some cases, costs go down. This is what has been happening in the recent past.
Years ago, the cost of doing business as a landlord rose steadily. The cost of heating and maintaining a building climbed steadily. But of late, these costs have gone down, sharply in some cases. Heating oil, for instance, costs far less today than it did just a few years ago.
And yet, the landlords cry out for your help. They complain that their costs are exceeded by the revenues they collect as rent. This position runs contrary to the evidence, and to common sense.
Think of the tenants. Last week (Friday, June 5), the federal government reported that wages have gone up…by an average of three-tenths of one percent. That is 0.003. A third of a penny for each dollar in earnings. And this increase is remarkable in its strength compared to the recent past.
Now, compare that to the growth in rents. The disconnect is shocking.
This is not justice.
As I have said to you in the past...
Please, think of the tenants. People are suffering. You have it within your power to help them
Again, please lower the rents. Thank you.
SAME AS No same as
SPONSOR Wright (MS)
COSPNSR Heastie, Farrell, O'Donnell, Aubry, Crespo, Glick, Silver, Kavanagh, Gottfried, Lentol, Mosley, Pretlow, Rosenthal, Bichotte, Cook, Davila, Dinowitz, Joyner, Linares, Moya, Pichardo, Robinson, Rodriguez, Sepulveda, Walker, Abinanti, Benedetto, Colton, DenDekker, Jaffee, Brook-Krasny, Ortiz
Amd S17, Chap 576 of 1974; rpld S2 sub 2 (n), amd Emerg Hous Ren Cont L, generally; amd S2, Chap 329 of 1963; amd S10, Chap 555 of 1982; amd S4, Chap 402 of 1983; amd S46, Chap 116 of 1997; rpld S5 sub a 13, amd Emerg Ten Prot Act of 1974, generally; rpld S26-504.2, S26-403 sub e 2 sub (k), S26-405 sub g 1 sub (l) & (n), amd NYC Ad Cd, generally; amd S213-a, add S3012-c, CPLR; amd S241.05, add S241.03, Pen L; amd S235-e, RP L; amd SS282-a & 284, Mult Dwell L; rpld S27 sub (h), Chap 4 of 2013
Relates to the control and stabilization of rent.
TITLE OF BILL:
An act to amend chapter 576 of the laws of 1974 amending the emergency housing rent control law relating to the control of and stabilization of rent in certain cases, the emergency housing rent control law, chapter 329 of the laws of 1963 amending the emergency housing rent control law relating to recontrol of rents in Albany, chapter 555 of the laws of 1982 amending the general business law and the administrative code of the city of New York relating to conversion of residential property to cooperative or condominium ownership in the city of New York, chapter 402 of the laws of 1983 amending the general business law relating to conversion of rental residential property to cooperative or condominium ownership in certain municipalities in the counties of Nassau, Westchester and Rockland and the rent regulation reform act of 1997, in relation to extending the effectiveness thereof; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four and the emergency housing rent control law, in relation to the regulation of rents; to amend the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four, the emergency housing rent control law, and the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to deregulation thresholds; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four and the emergency housing rent control law, in relation to recovery of certain housing accommodations by a landlord; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York and the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four, in relation to limiting rent increase after vacancy of a housing accommodation; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York and the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four, in relation to the declaration of emergencies for certain rental housing accommodations; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four and the emergency housing rent control law, in relation to approval of major capital improvement rent increases and in relation to extending the length of time over which major capital improvement expenses may be recovered; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to waivers of rent adjustments; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four and the emergency housing rent control law, in relation to adjustment of maximum allowable rent; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York and the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four, in relation to hardship applications; to amend the emergency tenant protection act of nineteen seventy-four, in relation to the declaration of housing emergencies for rental housing accommodations located in buildings owned by certain limited-profit housing companies; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the filing of an overcharge complaint; to amend the penal law, in relation to harassment of a rent regulated tenant; to amend the civil practice law and rules, in relation to residential rent overcharges; to amend the administrative code of the city of New York and the emergency housing rent control law, in relation to the establishment of rent adjustments; to amend the real property law, in relation to the duty of a landlord to provide written receipts and notification of non-payment of rent; to amend the multiple dwelling law, in relation to coverage of interim multiple dwellings and owner obligations; to amend the civil practice law and rules, in relation to prerequisites and certificate of merit in an eviction proceeding and to repeal subdivision (h) of section 27 of chapter 4 of the laws of 2013 amending the real property tax law relating to exemption from taxation to alterations and improvements to multiple dwellings to eliminate fire and health hazards, relating thereto; and to repeal paragraph (n) of subdivision 2 of section 2 of chapter 274 of the laws of 1946, constituting the emergency housing rent control law, paragraph 13 of subdivision a of section 5 of section 4 of chapter 576 of the laws of 1974, constituting the emergency tenant protection act, subparagraph (k) of paragraph 2 of subdivision e of section 26-403 and subparagraphs (l) and (n) of paragraph 1 of subdivision g of section 26-405 of the administrative code of the city of New York and section 26-504.2 of the administrative code of the city of New York related thereto
PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL:
The purpose of this bill is to extend the various provisions of the Rent Stabilization and Rent Control Laws and the General Business Law relating to the conversion of residential property to cooperative or condominium ownership, for an additional four years, until June 15, 2019. The bill is also intended to enhance tenant protections for rent regulated tenants. It addresses issues including: preferential rent, civil penalties, tenant harassment, vacancy decontrol, income and rent deregulation thresholds, landlord recovery of apartments, vacancy increases, expanded coverage for former project-based Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama developments, major capital improvement rent increases, individual apartment improvement rent increases, eligibility for an alternative hardship rent adjustment, rental overcharge complaint examination, rent increases for rent controlled tenants, receipts, notification of non-payment, and certification of court filings. Additionally, it allows owners and tenants to continue to apply for coverage under the loft law and makes related provisions of Chapter 4 of the Laws of 2013, which relate to the loft law, permanent.
SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS:
* Sections one through six would extend rent regulation provisions and General Business Law provisions pertaining to cooperative and condominium conversion for an additional four years, from June 15, 2015 until June 15, 2019.
* Sections seven and eight would prohibit owners from adjusting the preferential rent upon renewing a tenant's lease. An increase in the preferential rent upon vacancy would be prohibited if the vacancy was caused by a landlord's violation of the warranty of habitability.
* Sections nine through fourteen would increase civil penalties for tenant harassment. A violation of an order of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) would result in a civil penalty of at least $1,000, but not more than $2,000, for the first offense; and at least $2,000, but not more than $4,000, for each subsequent offense. Harassment of a tenant to obtain vacancy of his or her housing accommodation would result in a civil penalty of at least $2,000, but not more than $5,000, for the first offense; and at least $10,000, but not more than $15,000, for each subsequent offense, or for a violation consisting of conduct directed at the tenants of more than one housing accommodation.
* Sections fifteen through twenty-one would repeal provisions of New York State and New York City laws that remove units from rent stabilization or rent control upon vacancy when the legal regulated rent is $2,500 or more. Additionally, the bill would reregulate certain units that were deregulated pursuant to vacancy decontrol prior to December 31, 2014.
* Sections twenty-two through twenty-five would address high-income/high rent deregulation by increasing the income threshold from $200,000 to $225,000, and increasing the monthly rental threshold from $2,500 to $3,500.
* Sections twenty-six through twenty-nine would permit a landlord to recover only one housing accommodation as a primary residence, either: for his or her own personal use and occupancy, or for the use and occupancy of the landlord's immediate family. The bill would prohibit such a recovery if a tenant has occupied an apartment for fifteen or more years.
* Sections thirty and thirty-one would reduce, from 20% to 7.5%, the amount by which rent may be increased upon vacancy.
* Sections thirty-two and thirty-three would include former federal Section 8 projects in the category of housing covered by rent regulation laws, even if such projects were constructed after 1974. The section would apply only to former federal Section 8 projects whose contracts are no longer in effect after the effective date.
* Sections thirty-four through forty-six would establish that rental increases associated with major capital improvements (MCIs) are to be surcharges to the legal regulated rent, and therefore must be separately designated and billed as such. The authorized surcharge for MCIs would cease after the cost of improvements is recovered. When calculating the surcharge, the cost of the MCI would be reduced by any grant provided therefor by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERA). The bill would also require that MCI rent adjustments be offset by 100% of the total annual tax abatement benefits and any tax abatement benefits that were received prior to such adjustments, provided that they are the result of participation in the J-51 program.
* These sections would also reduce the rent increase amount that a landlord could collect, for a building, from 1/40th to 1/84th of the cost of individual apartment improvements (IAIs). The bill would establish that rental increases associated with IAIs are to be surcharges to the legal regulated rent. The authorized surcharge for IAIs would cease after the cost of improvements is recovered. The bill would require DHCR to issue a schedule of reasonable costs (based on regional costs), within 120 days of the bill's enactment, for upgrades and improvements that may be claimed as a basis for an adjustment of rent. Landlords would be required to file an explanation of how the vacancy rent was computed with DHCR, along with all documents necessary to support the collection of such increase, within 30 days of a tenant signing a vacancy lease. DHCR would then issue an order approving or disapproving such increase in whole or in part. No increase would be permitted if MICR determines that the owner has outstanding hazardous violations or is not maintaining all required building-wide services.
* Sections forty-seven and forty-eight would increase the current ownership period, from three years to six years, for an owner to be eligible apply for an alternative hardship exemption.
* Section forty-nine would bring into rent regulation, buildings that were owned by a Mitchell-Lama limited-profit housing company, where the company has voluntarily dissolved, regardless of the building's initial occupancy date. The section would apply only to Mitchell-Lama buildings whose limited-profit housing company dissolved after the effective date of this bill.
* Sections fifty through fifty-six would provide that when considering cases of fraud and/or outstanding orders issued by DHCR, a court or hearing officer may consider evidence based on circumstances that occurred more than four years prior to the filing of an overcharge complaint. These sections would also allow a court or DHCR to consider, in determining the legal regulated rent, any year where a landlord has not timely filed an annual rent registration statement as required by law. An owner or a landlord would be required to, upon the offering of a lease to prospective tenant, provide such tenant with the documentation, the scope of which would be determined by DHCR, used to support any allowable increases in the legal regulated rent during the previous four years.
* Sections fifty-seven and fifty-eight would establish the crime of second-degree harassment of a rent-regulated tenant. An owner would be guilty of second-degree harassment of a rent-regulated tenant when they intentionally impair the habitability of a housing accommodation, or create or maintain a condition, which endangers the safety or health of a tenant, with the intent to cause the tenant to vacate. Second-degree harassment of a rent-regulated tenant would be a class A misdemeanor.
* Sections fifty-nine through sixty-one would require DHCR to cap the percentage rent increase available to owners of rent controlled apartments at a rate equal to the average of the last five years of the Rent Guidelines Board adjustments for one-year renewal leases.
* Section sixty-two would require a lessor, or any agent of the lessor authorized to receive rent, to provide the lessee with a written receipt upon the payment of rent for residential purposes in the form of cash, or any instrument other than the personal check of the lessee. The written receipt must contain the date of payment, the amount, the identity of the premises and period for which paid, and the signature and title of the person receiving the rent. If a request is made by a lessee for a written receipt upon the payment of rent in the form of a personal check, such request shall remain in effect for the duration of such lessee's tenancy. If a payment of rent is made directly to a lessor or its agent, a lessee would receive a written receipt immediately. If a payment of rent is made indirectly to a lessor or its agent, a lessee would receive a written receipt within ten business days of the receipt of payment. If a lessor or its agent does not receive payment for rent within ten business days of the date specified in the lease agreement, such lessor or agent would be required to send the lessee a written notice, within two business days, indicating such failure to receive such rent payment. Failure of a lessor or its agent to provide a lessee with a written notice of non-payment of rent may be used as an affirmative defense by the lessee in an eviction proceeding based on the non-payment of rent.
* Section sixty-three and sixty-four would remove the six month time limit under which applications for registration as an interim multiple dwelling or for coverage of residential units must occur. It would also make changes to the law necessary to implement continued enrollment.
* Section sixty-five would make permanent provisions of chapter 4 of the Laws of 2013 pertaining to lofts. This included: the reduction of minimum unit size required to be covered; the prohibition of coverage on units in a building with hazardous activities that are continuing on the date of submission for coverage; the reduction in the percent of rent increases allowed for coming into various stages of compliance for fire and safety standards; and allowing the Loft Board to make cases by case determination on incompatible uses in the building.
* Section sixty-six would require the filing of a certificate of merit in any eviction proceeding or in any action to reregulate a rent-regulated unit.
* Section sixty-seven would establish an immediate effective date.
Rent Regulation Laws Rent Control and Rent Stabilization in New York State provide protection to approximately 2.5 million tenants across the State. In 2014, there were over 1.05 million rent-regulated units in New York City, representing almost 50% of the City's entire rental stock.
The basis for rent regulation is a housing emergency, defined as a vacancy rate below 5%. According to the Housing and Vacancy Survey (HVS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every three years, the vacancy rate in New York City and some surrounding counties has consistently remained under 5%. Two of the most recent reports showed a vacancy rate in New York City of 2.91% in 2008 and 3.12% in 2011. Initial findings for the 2014 HVS report demonstrate a City-wide rental vacancy rate of 3.45% during the period between February 2014 and May 2014.
As the vacancy rate in New York City and some surrounding counties has consistently remained under 5% since the State's first rent regulation laws were enacted after World War II, it is essential for the State to build stronger and more effective protections for tenants during this chronic housing shortage. For rent regulation laws to continue to protect tenants and keep housing affordable, rent laws must be strengthened and deregulation-causing loopholes closed. For example, there is no oversight or approval mechanism for individual apartment improvement (IAI) increases, and the increase can be made in addition to any other rent increase to which the landlord is statutorily entitled. Because the IAI occurs in a vacant apartment, a new tenant has no way of knowing what the rent should be, and if work allegedly done justifies the increase.
Building owners are also currently allowed to increase the amount of rent based on major capital improvements (MCIs) to their buildings on a schedule to recover all costs within a seven year period. However, tenants have been forced to continue to pay for MCIs long after its costs have been recovered. This bill seeks to balance the conflicting concerns of maintaining affordable housing and insuring adequate incentives for investment in MCIs in order to preserve and improve our housing stock.
With the shortage of housing in New York City and its surrounding areas, vacancy decontrol only further erodes the stock of rent-regulated housing. Vacancy decontrol can be an incentive for owners of rental housing to withhold services and use forms of harassment to cause rent-regulated tenants to vacate their units. In some instances, renovation costs have been inflated, or even falsified, in order to drive apartment rents to the $2,500 threshold for deregulation upon vacancy. There is an urgent need to repeal these statutory provisions, in order to preserve affordable housing in New York City and protect low- and middle-income families.
In addition to the aforementioned, this bill would make several other significant changes to address losses to rent-regulated housing and strengthen the rent laws in order to protect tenants and support New York communities. This bill is an important step in guaranteeing that the residents of New York can access quality and safe affordable housing.
PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY:
None to the State.
A larger-than-expected audience attended a Town Hall Meeting jointly sponsored by Assemblyman Farrell and City Council Member Mark Levine, which featured a number of top housing officials who were invited to the District to meet with members of the public and discuss housing issues of local concern.
During the meeting, which ran for more than three hours, about 150 members of the community had the opportunity to speak directly with these housing experts about their concerns over problems like illegal deregulation of affordable housing, the shortage of affordable apartments, and other issues. The meeting room at Church of Intercession is able to hold 100 people, meaning that the audience spilled out into the hallway.
Because of the many important issues that were raised during the meeting, Assemblyman Farrell and the other participants are working to develop in-depth answers to questions raised by the community and offer help to those who need it.
Assemblyman Farrell recently joined Mayor de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, former City Council Member Robert Jackson, Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and other officials to mark the near-completion of a new affordable housing project at 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
The mixed-use project, called the Sugar Hill Development, brings together a preschool, on-site museum, and 124 units of affordable housing. The project began in 2008 with support from Assemblyman Farrell and other officials, and was completed by Broadway Housing Communities using a mix of public and private funds.
"The opening of the Sugar Hill Development is hugely important for this community," Assemblyman Farrell said. "Broadway Housing Communities has created a unique space for residents and neighbors alike. I am proud to be here today."
According to Mayor de Blasio, the Sugar Hill development is an example of rejuvenation, renewal, community involvement and community leadership. Both the affordable housing component and the early education component tie in with his administration's plans to improve the quality of life in New York City, the mayor remarked.
Assemblyman Farrell joined Mayor Bloomberg and other elected officials Thursday, July 19, for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future Sugar Hill Development, a 124-unit affordable housing complex and youth museum at West 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
The 13-story, $80 million Broadway Housing Communities project, which was partially funded by New York State, replaces an aged parking garage. Construction on the Development is slated to end in spring 2014.
"Finding safe, decent housing has always been a problem in Manhattan and throughout New York City, but finding safe and affordable housing can feel impossible. Just recently, a study was released that showed the median monthly rent in Manhattan is $3,125, up 8 percent from last year alone. These affordable apartments are an important step in the right direction, and I am happy to see the progress being made here today," Assemblyman Farrell said.
Aside from the affordable housing component, which includes 25 units of supported housing, the project will include an early childhood education center and the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling, which will seek to chronicle the history of the neighborhood.
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5776 FAX
Black & Puerto Rican Caucus
The Honorable Sheldon Silver
Speaker, New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
Dear Speaker Silver,
I am writing to support the continued negotiations pertaining to Assembly bill A10798, of which I am a co-sponsor and which is presently in my Ways and Means Committee.
This bill, as you know, pertains to crucial tax abatements for capital improvements that are intended to reduce fire and safety hazards in multi-unit buildings. A10798 is related to your earlier housing bill, A10071, which would extend tax abatements for co-op and condo owners.
As you may know, I agreed to co-sponsor A10798 in order to demonstrate my support of provisions in this bill which protect co-operatives in my district and throughout New York City.
But, at the time I agreed to sign on to A10798, I was not fully aware that when provisions of A10071 were incorporated into A10798, including language to extend tax benefits for real estate developers through the J-51 program, the language of A10798 neglected to include any additional protections for the many tenants in my district and around New York City. I recall that protections for tenants were discussed, but I was surprised when I received the finished product, which did not include any additional language protecting tenants.
I believe that it is imperative that this tenant protection language must be added to the bill. Possible additions may include reforms of the Rent Guidelines Board to make this body more accountable to tenants, inclusion of rent controlled tenants under the Rent Guidelines Board for lease renewal increases, protection for tenants with "preferential rents" from large rent increases, and a significant readjustment for how Major Capital Improvement Increases are dealt with, as has been proposed by our colleague, Daniel O'Donnell, in a new bill.
As much as I would like to support and protect co-op owners, I may be forced to withdraw my support of A10798 and remove my name from the bill if we are not able to fulfill our promise to better protect tenants.
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Assemblyman Farrell joined tenant advocates and 40 members of the NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus today to express strong support for renewing the rent laws, strengthening tenant protections and ending vacancy decontrol, the process by which apartments are priced out of the rent regulation system by the landlords.
Farrell pointed out that the last time the rent laws were renewed, then-Gov. Pataki worked on behalf of the landlords, not the tenants. Current Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is working to make sure that a bill that will protect tenants' rights is passed into law, Farrell said.
Lawmakers and advocates say improvements to the rent laws must be made before the laws expire June 15, which could place tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments in jeopardy and remove many apartments from the system.
Over two million New Yorkers live in about one million rent regulated apartments throughout the City. Nearly one quarter of those renters live below the poverty line. Northern Manhattan in particular has seen rents skyrocket, pricing renters out of homes they have lived in for years or decades.
"Renewing our rent laws is one of the most important actions the New York State Legislature must take this year," Farrell said. "Thousands of tenants will be at risk of sky-high rents and eviction without the protection of the rent laws.
"Tenants matter. Their rights matter. And housing permanency matters to the ongoing stability of our City and State. The rent laws are a perfect example of why government and laws exist: to protect the poor and weak from the strong and powerful.
As reflected in the 2010 Federal Census, the people who live in my district struggle with some of the lowest incomes in our City, while living in what is arguably its' most expensive borough. Just three years ago, these people, who are already burdened with high rents that consume a large portion of their income, were told that landlords would be allowed to raise their rents. Now is not the time to raise the rents again.
More must be done to keep housing affordable, not allow it to grow more expensive as cuts to the City's budget endanger the future of housing support programs, shelters, and other resources low-income New Yorkers need to avoid ending up on the street. Again and again, during these already trying times, New Yorkers who rent their homes are forced to dig a little deeper. Those who cannot are forced to uproot their families and upend their lives in the search for a new home, while the supply of vacant apartments remains critically low. The most unfortunate lose their homes altogether and are cast out onto the streets.
Since the 2008 rent increase, we have seen the economy improve without creating a significant number of good jobs or raising people's incomes. We have seen the price of food and other necessities rise, driven by exploding energy costs. And, most disturbingly, we have seen video in the media of a meeting of landlords, during which one of these landlords boasts of "emptying our piggy bank" to support candidates who would help landlords make more money, hurting the tenants who must pay up or become homeless.
Today, you have before you a proposal to raise the rents again, at a time when working New Yorkers are only beginning to find their feet after the end of the recent recession. This is wrong. It is not the time to bleed more money from tenants. We should be moving in the exact opposite direction. Along with my Assembly colleagues in Albany, I am fighting to not only renew the rent laws that expire next month, but strengthen them. Our legislation would make it harder for landlords to remove apartments from the pool of affordable housing, and give tenants stronger and sharper legal tools to use if their rights are trampled upon in search of greater profit. It would also stop bad landlords from hiding questionable fees in the rent.
Across our City and State, New Yorkers are finding ways to cut corners and live within their means to cope with the economy. Albany and City Hall have made deep budget cuts. And again, the landlords ask you, the Commissioners, to raise the rents. Enough. Give tenants a break and leave the rents as they are.
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
HERMAN D. FARRELL, JR
Assemblymember 71st District
2541-55 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10039
TEL (212) 568-2828
FAX (212) 928-4177
Many of us live in buildings that the landlords had walked away from many years ago. At that time, our city and our neighborhoods were going through a hard time and money was tight all around. Rather than fixing their buildings it was easier for the landlords to walk away from their problem buildings when the roof sprung a leak or the boiler went bad and leave the tenants to fend for themselves.
With no one around to fix these problems after the landlords walked away, the tenants had to make the repairs themselves, but had no legal authority to do so. I helped tenants suffering from landlord neglect and abuse by organizing tenants to take control of their buildings and passing a law in Albany called the Neighborhood Preservation Act. Under this law, tenants could form not-for-profit management associations and bring court action to take control of their buildings. Some of the buildings were bought by new owners while others became tenant co-ops. These management associations helped tenants begin rebuilding their apartments and their lives, and our neighborhoods began to prosper again. One of the reasons for this prosperity is the affordable housing that was created when tenants came together to fend for themselves, without the landlord taking rents as their profit. The Neighborhood Preservation Act was so successful throughout our city that it was copied in cities across the country.
Today, landlords like Pinnacle have bought many of the buildings that were saved by the tenants, washed the windows, painted the front door, and demanded higher rents. Some landlords began to convert their buildings to co-ops or condos, which bring the landlords greater profits. The more aggressive landlords harass tenants by filing false court claims charging that the tenant actually lives in another state or otherwise has no legal right to keep the apartment. I think that some of these landlords spend more on lawyers than they do on superintendents to do repairs. This is done in hopes that the tenants will move out of their apartments, which may mean that the rent laws no longer apply to that apartment. While these landlords may claim that they are only checking up on their tenants and making sure that tenants are following the rules, it is believed that they are trying to harass tenants out of their apartments to make more money.
As this behavior became more and more common, community groups began to form to fight back. Working together, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Eric Schneiderman, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and myself joined with tenants' associations and others in the community. A court case was brought and won that will allow a class action lawsuit against Pinnacle for their harassment of tenants. That was a major victory. I am also working with tenants at 835 Riverside Drive, whose landlord insists on keeping a faulty old boiler that frequently shuts down and can only be restarted by the superintendent. I have been told the superintendent is sometimes gone for days, which can create major problems.
Overall, these problems have become so bad that I have come to believe that it is time to change the law to stop bad landlords from abusing their tenants. Working with Senator Liz Krueger, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, we have written a new law that will protect tenants and co-ops from landlord harassment, baseless threats, false court actions and other ongoing problems.
Today, the state Attorney General is responsible for making sure landlords follow the law when they convert their buildings into co-ops. I believe that we must put together a special team in the Attorney General's office, including an ombudsman who will in a way act as a lawyer for the tenants and co-ops to go up against the landlords' lawyers. Too many people have been made to suffer for the sake of profit, and this kind of behavior must stop now. I hope to pass this important law during our next Session.
"Community League of the Heights has, for decades, stepped up to support our community," Assemblyman Farrell said. "It was good to see these volunteers, some of whom had never visited our city before, also doing good deeds for our community."
The volunteers, who traveled from Europe, Asia and points around the globe to participate in this and other exercises, gave an "extreme makeover" to a food pantry and community garden run by CLOTH, replacing shelves and fencing and planting new greenery in the outdoor site.
During the last year 8,000 food packages are distributed from the pantry each month, a notable increase from the 7,000 packages which were handed out each month in 2008, said CLOTH's Executive Director Yvonne Stennett. The 57-year-old community development corporation has run the pantry since the 1970s, she said.
Stennett said the event took shape after CLOTH applied to the Bank's employee participation program, which the organization became aware of during their work with the Bank on housing development financing issues. Over the course of three days, volunteer workers performed an intensive rehabilitation, which was of particular help in the food pantry, which had not been upgraded in five years, Stennett said.
"More and more people are relying on food pantries to help feed their families. By rehabilitating CLOTH's pantry, these volunteers have not only improved an area but will also help improve lives," said Earnestine Bell-Temple, an aide to Assemblyman Farrell who attended the event.
"I think it was rewarding for many of these volunteers," Stennett said, calling these persons "excited to do good" during what was for many their first visit to New York.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed rent increases.
These are extraordinarily difficult economic times and any increases in rent would impact greatly on my constituents. This hardship would be felt most acutely by senior citizens and the disabled who are already struggling to cope with increases to the cost of their utility bills and food. The thought that seniors might have to once again choose between paying their bills and eating causes me great concern.
With the mission of the RGB to establish rent adjustments for the approximately 1 million dwelling units subject to the rent stabilization law, it seems only fair to use a formula that balances the scale for all, and not to tilt in the direction of the wealthy. While it is true that our neighborhood is not a poor one, it is also true that many of our neighbors are already struggling to get by. I fear that approving a rent increase could result in more evictions and more tenants being forced into shelters or out onto the streets.
In their haste to profit from gentrification, some landlords have tried to remove tenants without just cause and many false eviction cases have been brought based on false information. A number of these cases have been brought against senior citizens, for whom the mere thought of an eviction case is a frightening prospect. These actions and many others make these buildings highly profitable.
The landlords don't need your help to make more money.
But notwithstanding this, the landlords automatically and continuously claim that their operating expenses have risen during the last year while testifying at your annual hearings.
The facts are that owners of rent regulated units have the right to receive hardship increases if they do not receive a certain rate of return on their investments. However, the rent regulated real estate market continues to be one of the most consistently profitable investments in New York City. For many years, up to the present, landlords have disagreed with this assessment. The problem lies in their consistent refusal to open their books, giving them the opportunity to prove their claims. Their refusal leaves me suspicious of the integrity and motive of their claims. The well-being of my constituents is too important to me to believe statements that have been, and continue to be, unproven. It is my hope that you will give substantial consideration to the above-presented facts when you deliberate on this issue of supreme importance to my constituents and to other residents of our great city.
Tenants are already facing the loss of their jobs and increasing prices of energy, food and other necessities. They don't need to you raise their rents as well.