The city’s Rent Guidelines Board voted 6 to 3 Wednesday in favor of a zero percent increase for one-year leases and the first year of two-year leases for roughly 1 million rent stabilized apartments in New York City. In the second year of two-year leases, tenants will see a 1.0 percent increase in their rent.
The increases, which will affect leases signed after October 1, came despite calls from property owners for more generous hikes. The vote comes one year after new state rent laws eliminated high-rent vacancy deregulation and vacancy bonuses, reined in preferential rents, and imposed tight limits on rent increases linked to major capital improvements (MCIs) and individual apartment improvements (IAIs), among other changes (you can read the details of the reform here).
“Typical de Blasio pandemic politics, denying owners of small buildings, mostly immigrants and people of color, the rent revenue needed to operate their buildings, finance capital improvements, infuse jobs and revenue into their neighborhoods, and pay property taxes that he raises every year,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, the largest trade association for owners of rent-stabilized apartments.
The nine-member Rent Guidelines Board is appointed by the mayor. Two members represent tenant interests, another two members represent property owners’ interests and the rest of the board are supposed to represent the general public’s interest.
“Renters have never faced hardship like this. They desperately need relief and that’s why we fought for this rent freeze. Now, more renters than ever before will get help keeping a roof over their heads. This is one step of many we have to take to get families through this crisis—but it’s a big one,” said in a statement from the Mayor de Blasio’s office.
Since de Blasio became mayor, the board has approved rent hikes for one-year leases of 1 percent (2014), 0 percent (2015), 0 percent (2016), 1.25 percent (2017) and 1.5 percent (both in 2018 and 2019). They are the lowest increases in the history of the RGB.
The board also approved a rent freeze on stabilized hotel units.
With the RGB vote largely a fait accompli following its earlier preliminary approval of the one-year freeze, housing advocates’ biggest concern has been the looming reopening of housing court, which will allow for eviction cases to move forward.
“We find any rent increase in the middle of a pandemic to be unconscionable. We are glad that the Rent Guidelines Board and the mayor are giving tenants some relief with these historic low increases.” said Ava Farkas, executive director of the Met Council on Housing. “Having virtual hearings left many tenants unable to testify due to limited slots, a confusing system, and the digital divide that exist in our city.”
Currently in New York State, there is an eviction moratorium because of the COVID-19 crisis. For renters, the first moratorium issued on March 20 barred landlords from residential and commercial evictions for 90 days (through June 20). In May, Governor Cuomo extended the moratorium but limited its scope to residential tenants who are “eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law or otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”