What is Universal Rent Control?

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As New York’s rent regulations expiration date grows closer, housing advocates and several Democratic legislators are working hard on a package of bills to establish universal rent control across the state.

Nine bills have been introduced in the State Senate and Assembly to address what activists call "loopholes" in the laws that have caused a decrease in the number of rent-stabilized apartments in New York City.  The platform incorporates several interconnected pieces of legislation. 

Strengthening renters’ rights is critical to strong neighborhoods, educational and health outcomes, and economic stability for all New Yorkers.

The pieces of legislation that make up Universal Rent Control  would affect both New York City and the rest of the state in various ways.

The housing justice for all campaign is mobilizing to fight for universal rent control and an end to homelessness in 2019.

Watch this weeks #RepresentNYC to hear from Assembly Member Harvey Epstein who is joined by Marcela Mitaynes from Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Caitlin Shann from Metropolitan Council on Housing to discuss these bills, #AffordableHousing and #TenantRights.   

 

For the first time in decades, tenants and homelessness New Yorkers are coming together to demand a solution that works for all of us.  Their plan for #universalrentcontrol renews, strengthens, and expands rent stabilization when it expires in 2019, and invests in housing people -- not rewarding developers. They are seeking to do the following:

Expand the number of tenants protected by rent protections to cover people who live in small buildings, in cities across New York state, and to people who live in apartments that were recently deregulated. 

Eliminate the sudden rent hikes and tenant harassment that drive people out of their homes. 

Invest in ending homelessness, stop the corporate takeover of housing, and give residents control over their homes.

The bills in Housing Justice for All’s "universal rent control" package include:

Repealing vacancy decontrol: Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), would repeal the 1997 vacancy-decontrol law that allows landlords to deregulate vacant rent-stabilized apartments if the rent is more than about $2,775 a month. Combined with rent increases allowed for renovations and weak state enforcement against illegal overcharges, this has led to the deregulation of hundreds of thousands of older apartments. The current bill would reregulate most of those.

Eliminating vacancy bonuses: Sponsored by Bronx Democratic Senator Jose M. Serrano and Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo, would eliminate the 20 percent “statutory vacancy bonus” landlords can add to the rent on vacant apartments.

Preventing preferential rent hikes: Sponsored by Assembly Housing Committee Chair Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) and Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), would make “preferential rent” discounts—rents charged at below the legally allowed maximum for each apartment—last as long as the tenant stays there, instead of expiring when the lease comes up for renewal. This would protect more than 250,000 households from facing sudden increases when their leases expire.

Extending time for overcharge complaints: Sponsored by Senator Myrie and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), would extend the four-year statute of limitations for complaints about illegal rent overcharges to six years. It would also let the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which enforces rent regulations, look further back into an apartment’s rent history when necessary.

Limiting rent hikes for rent-controlled tenants: Assemblymember Rosenthal’s sponsored in the Senate by Brian A. Benjamin (D-Manhattan), would eliminate the “Maximum Base Rent” system that covers the city's remaining 22,000 or so rent-controlled apartments. That system currently allows rents to rise by up to 7.5 percent a year for their largely elderly tenants; the bill would set rent increases similar to those for rent-stabilized apartments.

Ending rent hikes for building renovations: Sponsored by Queens Democrats Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Barnwell would prohibit increases for building-wide major capital improvements (MCIs). Another bill sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) and Assemblymember Diana Richardson (D-Brooklyn), would repeal hikes for individual apartment increases (IAIs).

Richardson said April 9th that increases for individual apartment improvements, which are usually done when a unit is vacant, “invite landlord fraud” and “are the key factor that is gentrifying” her Crown Heights district. Rosenthal says she sees the repeal of vacancy decontrol and MCIs as “righting a historical wrong,” restoring balance to a system where “tenants pay MCIs forever, and DHCR doesn’t even check the applications to see if they’re valid.”

Expanding rent regulations to the rest of the state: Sponsored by Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston) would repeal the geographic limits in the state’s rent-stabilization law, the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. This would let local governments outside New York City and its suburbs in Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland counties enact their own rent-stabilization laws.

Limiting "unconscionable" rent hikes in all buildings of four units or more: Sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse) would prohibit eviction without a “good cause”—such as not paying rent or creating a nuisance—except in owner-occupied buildings of less than four units and a few other special circumstances. This would expand tenant protections not just statewide, but to buildings of less than six apartments, which are not covered by rent stabilization.

To prevent landlords from pushing tenants out simply by raising the rent, it would prohibit eviction for not paying an “unconscionable” rent increase—defined as more than 50 percent above the local rate of inflation, or about 3.5 percent. Owners who want to oust tenants would have to prove that such an increase was justified.

“We’re looking to expand the pool and take back some of the ones we’ve lost,” says Assemblymember Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), a former tenant representative on the city Rent Guidelines Board. But he says good-cause eviction is a “complex” issue, and the Assembly may adopt a bill tailored more narrowly to target owners of multiple properties.  

Find out more by read their legislative platform here.