Cuomo to NYC renters: drop dead.
That’s the headline Gothamist ran in June 2015, after Governor Cuomo cut an awful deal on the rent laws that helps landlords and hurts tenants.
Since then, on Cuomo’s watch, the housing crisis has continued to worsen – because he’s made it so much easier for the worst landlords to raise our rents, harass us, and evict us.
Cuomo has squandered numerous opportunities – including, most recently, in this year’s state budget – to use his political power to deliver stronger protections for the vast majority of New Yorkers who rent their homes, and struggle to afford the rising cost of housing every year.
The faces of Cuomo’s housing crisis are diverse: We are seniors, young people, moms, daughters, father, sons, workers, immigrants, and homeless people of all backgrounds, colors and creeds.
I am one of them.
Thanks to Governor Cuomo, the rent on my apartment could jump from $1600 to over $2500 a month, even though it’s supposedly rent-stabilized. That’s because Cuomo has allowed landlords to keep exploiting a loophole known as preferential rent. It lets landlords like mine entice tenants into signing leases at lower-than-allowed rent levels and then increase the rents by a massive amount overnight.
I never knew what preferential rent was until I moved into my current apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. I had agreed to pay $1,600 a month, which was already more than I could really afford, but when my first rent bill arrived, I didn’t expect it to go up to $2,500 so quickly.
This is a widespread problem, it turns out.
An estimated 250,000 households right now grapple with higher-than-expected preferential rents.
Cuomo and his landlord donors are to blame.
Unless the preferential rent loophole is closed, I will have to leave. I am retired, and on a fixed income. I already pay nearly 90 percent of my income in rent and rely on help from my daughter to get by. If things don’t change, I will have to move. And I do not know where I will go.
What unites us is our shared struggle for decent, safe, affordable housing in New York.
Cuomo’s housing crisis has become a full-blown state of emergency for so many of us. He must take responsibility for it, and fix it. Without stronger rent laws, there is no future for tenants in New York. It’s that simple.
Rents will keep outpacing wages and incomes, and fewer apartments will be affordable. More tenants will be harassed and evicted and end up homeless, either on the streets or in shelters.
In recent years, Cuomo should have led the charge to close the loopholes that landlords regularly use to accelerate evictions and force tenants to pay as much as possible in rent.
Instead, he has left those loopholes wide open for exploitation and abuse.
Here are some examples of what I mean: Along with the preferential rent loophole, there’s the vacancy decontrol loophole that turns rent-stabilized apartments into market-rate apartments once the rent reaches $2,733; the vacancy bonus loophole that awards landlords up to a 20 percent increase in rent each time an apartment becomes vacant; and the loopholes for individual apartment improvements and major capital improvements that let landlords inflate the cost of renovations and pass on the expense to tenants in the form of higher rents.
Cuomo faces a stark choice: he can either keep doing the bidding of landlords, or he can finally stand up for tenants, helping us stay in New York, the place we love and call home.
He cannot do both.
Norma Jones is a tenant activist and member of New York Communities for Change, which has endorsed Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for Governor.