Opinion: The Rent Regs Debate is About Giving Tenants the Tool to Fight

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Michael Kink

Tenants rally for stronger rent regulations in Albany on May 14.

My family and I are fighting to be able to stay in our apartment building, while our ruthless landlord is trying to put us on the street.

For the last 16 years, I have lived in the same Brooklyn apartment. I live with my wife, twin daughters and 20-month old baby girl. My daughters have lived here all their lives; it is the only home they know. In the last five years, my family and I have dealt with dangerous and unhealthy conditions in our apartment, while the landlord has repeatedly neglected to repair them. The floor tiles are detached. The walls are cracked and moldy. The windows have holes in them where mice can get through. The kitchen cabinets are old and loose. The sink constantly leaks, and the hot water faucet is broken. Once, the refrigerator did not work, and we had to replace it on our own to be able to have food our own home.

The list of unsafe and unhealthy conditions goes on and on. And ever since my family started to demand repairs to be done, not only has the landlord disregarded our concerns, but now he has started a court case to try to evict my family.

In New York, more than five million tenants like me do not have any protections. That’s why I went to Albany with Make the Road New York and tenants with the Housing Justice for All coalition from all over the state. Vulnerable and unprotected families like mine have to constantly fight for safe and livable conditions. We have to fight to be able to stay in our homes and not be thrown out onto the streets. Enough is enough.

Our state legislature must not only renew existing protections for rent-stabilized tenants, which are set to expire within the next month, but must also strengthen and expand protections for all tenants across the state. My family is stuck in a nightmare because no laws in New York protect tenants in unregulated units. We must pass the “Good Cause” eviction bill, which would expand renters’ rights to tenants in buildings like mine by preventing us from being evicted without good cause, such as a repeated failure to pay rent. It will protect families whose landlords fail to repair apartments in hopes that tenants will get tired of the deteriorating conditions and move out, all so that the landlord can just increase the rent for the next tenant.

Since February, I have been going to housing court to defend my case. With good cause legislation enacted, tenants like me would have the upper hand in court when faced with landlords trying to displace us for no good reason. In the meantime, I have lost money from missing work and sleep from the stress of fearing that my time in my home is limited. With my current income and three children, I cannot afford to move out because rent prices all over the state are rising at alarming rates.

I fear that I will lose my home, forcing my family to become homeless. And I know I’m not alone. Renters like me need our legislators to take action to prevent this from happening. The state legislature has the power to make sure families across the state enjoy basic protections and significantly reduce the risk of displacement. Our families’ futures hang in the balance.

Jorge Rufino is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY

3 thoughts on “Opinion: The Rent Regs Debate is About Giving Tenants the Tool to Fight

  1. Why have 3 kids if you can barely afford rent?

    I have no children for that very reason, kids are expensive.

    Good cause eviction has too many gapping holes. Renters are temporary and have no ownership therefore should not be entitled to stay in 1 place forever. The owner should have the control, placing that control in the tenants is backwards. If people think low income below market rate housing is bad now, watch how worse it get of everyone of these bills passed.

  2. I sympathize with you but it sounds like you have a bad landlord. Most unregulated units are in 2 or 3 family homes are private homes which should not be regulated like larger apartment buildings. A 2 or 3 family home is not a business, an apartment building is a business. Why don’t you move? I’m sure you can find a better apartment with a better landlord.

  3. I’ve owned and lived in a lovely two family house in Brooklyn for thirty one years, and when I was renting the garden apartment (and thereafter) always kept it in great condition, and addressed any required repairs immediately. Having been an oppressed tenant prior to buying the house, I was very mindful of my obligations and determined to be a good landlord. Then several years ago I rented to a tenant who, I discovered after she had moved in, had provided fraudulent documents to the broker, and had established a pattern of paying rent for four months maximum and then screaming all night, accusing next door neighbors of being peeping toms, etc., and eventually doing her best, while in eviction proceedings, to extort her landlord(s) for as much as she could get out of them to move on, always demanding a letter of recommendation to her next victim as part of the settlement. While we were in L/T court, she attempted to kill me by turning on all the burners of her stove in winter, blowing out the pilot light, and leaving the house. The only reason I’m alive is that my next door neighbor smelled the gas through the party wall. The court wouldn’t permit me to introduce evidence of attempted murder, as our local precinct, wanting to keep its crime stats down, accepted her explanation that it was all a mistake…her cat had turned on the stove. Did I mention that she turned out to have a police record for assault and battery on her prior landlord? I negotiated her down to a buyout price I could live with, refused to give her a letter of recommendation, and haven’t rented that apartment since. If these laws had been in effect at that time, I would have had to spend even more time risking my life by living in my own house while trying to secure evidence to prove to a court that she had tried to kill me. “Good cause” sounds nice, but having to prove “cause” to the satisfaction of a court while one’s life is in jeopardy is not my idea of fun. Not all tenants are oppressed saints, and not all landlords are evil. And no matter what my financial situation, that apartment is off the market until I leave feet first.

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