Who’s Afraid of the TPU?

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Gov. Cuomo oversaw a strengthening of the rent rules in 2011 and the next year created the TPU.

Mark Fader

Gov. Cuomo oversaw a strengthening of the rent rules in 2011 and the next year created the TPU.

Every year when the city’s Rent Guideline Board meets to discuss how much of a rent hike to permit in the city’s 980,000 units of stabilized housing, tenant and landlord groups square off in the hope of pushing the final number as low or high as possible. But in practice many rents increase far more than the RBG-sanctioned hike would allow. If a unit goes vacant during the year, its rent can be jacked up 20 percent before the next tenant comes in. If a landlord has been charging preferential rent–letting tenants pay less than the legal amount to reflect local market conditions–but suddenly wants to charge the maximum, the rent can leap considerably. And if a building goes through a major capital improvement (MCI) or individual apartment increase (IAI), the rent can jump permanently to cover a one-time investment by the property owner.

Many tenants and their advocates have long looked askance at MCIs and IAIs, which traditionally have been granted with minimal documentation or evaluation by state authorities. Jillian Jonas covered the debate over MCIs here last week. In this week’s City & State, I look at the governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, which was formed in 2012 to better police IAIs, among other tasks:

Even as the attention of housing advocates and landlord lobbyists focuses on Albany next year, another crucial fight will play out in a Brooklyn courtroom. There, landlord groups are challenging the very legitimacy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit, or TPU.

In 2011, the last time the state took up the laws that govern rents on some 990,000 apartments in New York City, tenant groups won a modest strengthening of the program. If that statutory improvement was a gift, the Cuomo administration’s subsequent move to stiffen the rules used by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal to regulate rent increases was the ribbon, and the creation of the TPU was the bow on top.

Read the full thing here.

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