“Many homeless New Yorkers are working and could afford rent stabilized rents—yet landlords have been warehousing rent stabilized apartments.”

Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

Apartment buildings in Queens at dusk.

A New York Daily News editorial, “Unlock the Inventory: Warehousing of Rental Units Is One Contributor to High Rents,” recently observed that part of New York City’s housing shortage and rent price manipulation stem from landlords warehousing vacant affordable apartments.

This is not a new problem, and it affects both those without housing and many with it, as well as the city itself.

More than 63,000 city residents were homeless in June. Advocates for Children reported that more than 100,000 children were homeless at some point during the 2020-2021 school year, a 42 percent increase since 2010.

Many homeless New Yorkers are working and could afford rent stabilized rents—yet landlords have been warehousing rent stabilized apartments. In 2020, the landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) estimated that roughly 70,000 rent regulated units in the city were vacant. Such vacancies could accommodate many of the city’s working homeless and the not-yet-homeless who need affordable homes.

For those living next to warehoused apartments, the empty units can lead to major distress. Living in a building with many vacancies (three out of 10 units are vacant on the floor of one of the author’s buildings) creates a sense of insecurity, and vacant apartments often lead to building-wide issues. Empty units become vectors for vermin and mold. Broken or open windows let in cold air and invite intruders, and detritus left behind can be a fire hazard.

Unfortunately, due to current city regulations, residents of neighboring apartments have no way to get the vacant units inspected. In fact, chronically vacant apartments can create conditions so dire that warehousing has been considered a tool of harassment against the few remaining tenants in a building.

Some landlords say that they need huge rent increases to make those units habitable. But many apartments would be habitable with minor repairs. Instead of luxury housing, many of us are happy with a habitable place to call home.

Showing the thinness of their own “renovations cost too much” position, the landlord group  CHIP said they’d be glad to make some 20,000 vacant rent stabilized units available for rent, if Albany would reinstate the automatic vacancy bonus—which allowed owners to increase rents on a stabilized unit once it’s vacated and was eliminated by lawmakers in 2019 because it incentivized some landlords to harass tenants into leaving.

Even if apartments need more investment, prior to the recent pandemic when everyone suffered, the city’s rent-stabilized landlords had 13 years of increasing profits, earning an average of $540 per month profit, per unit, in 2019. Landlords should have invested some of that profit into maintaining their buildings, an expected cost of the real estate rental business. The failure of owners to maintain their property and let apartments fall into complete disrepair cannot be an excuse to weaken the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

If they actually need more income for a fair return on their investment, owners could just rent out the warehoused apartments. Owners could also rent out those apartments and apply for a hardship increase for the stabilized rents from the New York State Department of Homes and Community Renewal (HCR).

Creating fake scarcity to raise prices is not a fair way to run the housing market, and it deprives New Yorkers of needed housing. We should end apartment warehousing and keep tenant protections. The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act 2019 will not be held hostage or bartered to provide affordable housing units.

Housing is a human right!

Sue Susman, Pat Loftman, Colin Kent-Daggett, and Edward Ratliff are members of the Stand for Tenant Safety/End Apartment Warehousing Coalition. Follow the Coalition on Twitter: @NyWarehousing