Tenant Groups Push Assembly to Back Rent-Regs Bill

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Gov. Cuomo is seen as key to the negotiations over rent regulations, and Majority Leader Skelos's role is clouded by reports that he figures in an ethics investigation. But tenant advocates' hopes most depend on the Assembly taking a bold stance.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Cuomo is seen as key to the negotiations over rent regulations, and Majority Leader Skelos's role is clouded by reports that he figures in an ethics investigation. But tenant advocates' hopes most depend on the Assembly taking a bold stance.

Tenant organizers are putting the pressure on Assembly Democrats who have yet to sign on to a bill that would repeal a mechanism in state law that has stripped tens of thousands of apartments from rent stabilization.

In an email to Tenants PAC members on Thursday, PAC treasurer Michael McKee said it was “disappointing” that only 41 of the Assembly’s 103 Democrats had signed on as co-sponsors or multi-sponsors of bill 1865-A, sponsored by Linda Rosenthal*, which targets high-rent vacancy decontrol.

Advocates are gearing up for a major battle over housing affordability that will play out in Albany and in the city over the next two months. Rent regulations expire June 15, and three key tax breaks—421-a, J51 and the coop and condo tax abatement—also come up for renewal that month. In addition to the action around those four state laws, the city’s Rent Guidelines Board makes its final vote on rent increases for the coming year on June 24.

Under current rent-stabilization rules, when an apartment reaches a rent of $2,500 a month or more and goes vacant, it can be removed from the stabilization system—meaning rent increases are no longer governed by the Rent Guidelines Board, or RGB.

According to research by the RGB, high-rent vacancy decontrol has been responsible for the loss of at least 133,000 units from the stabilization roll since 1994; tenant advocates insist the actual number is higher.

Landlord groups say vacancy decontrol is fair, and necessary to allow building owners to generate money to pay for upkeep as a building ages. And they note that a monthly rent burden as high as $2,500 would only be considered “affordable” for households making $100,000 or more.

But tenant advocates counter that the vacancy decontrol threshold creates an incentive for landlords to push tenants out and overestimate the cost of capital upgrades and apartment improvements so they hike rents ever closer to the decontrol cutoff.

Bill 1865-A wouldn’t just repeal decontrol. It would also re-regulate many apartments that have left the system in recent years. McKee contends 98 percent of the units that have been decontrolled over the past two decades would be re-stabilized under the bill.

Tenant advocates have cast the fight over rent-regulations renewal in the starkest terms, arguing that a continuation of the current system would effectively end rent stabilization in a city where the housing squeeze is already vice-tight.

They had hoped Democrats would seize control of the State Senate in the 2014 elections. That didn’t happen, so now advocates are pushing the traditionally tenant-friendly Assembly to adopt a strong negotiating stance when Speaker Carl Heastie enters negotiations with the other two “men in a room.” The legal questions surrounding State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have introduced an element of uncertainty into the strategizing, but the focus remains on the Assembly and the governor.

“The real question here is Cuomo,” a housing advocate said earlier this week.

According to the New York State Assembly website, here is the current list of co-sponsors and multi-sponsors of bill 1865-A:

Linda Rosenthal
Tom Abinanti
Michael Benedetto
Rodneyse Bichotte
James Brennan
Alec Brook-Krasny
William Colton
Vivian Cook
Steven Cymbrowitz
Maritza Davila
Jeffrey Dinowitz
Herman Farrell
Deborah Glick
Richard Gottfried
Earlene Hooper
Ellen Jaffee
Latoya Joyner
Brian Kavanagh
Charles Lavine
Joseph Lentol
Guillermo Linares
Margaret Markey
Shelley Mayer
Walter Mosley
Félix Ortiz
Crystal Peoples
N. Nick Perry
Victor Pichardo
J. Gary Pretlow
Dan Quart
Jose Rivera
Annette Robinson
William Scarborough
Michelle Schimel
Rebecca Seawright
Luis Sepúlveda
Sheldon Silver
Jo Anne Simon
Michele Titus
David Weprin
Keith Wright
Kenneth Zebrowski

*Correction: Assemblywoman Rosenthal’s name was omitted from an earlier version of this story. We regret the error.

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