Civil disobedience led to arrests Monday evening as a vote cued up rent increases of 2.75 percent on one-year leases and 5.25 percent on two-year leases for the city’s rent stabilized tenants.

Rent Guidelines Board vote

Adi Talwar

Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes was one of 10 people arrested for blocking the entrance to the Rent Guidelines Board meeting at Hunter College in Manhattan Monday night. The protestors say the process is not legitimate.

Tenants across roughly 1 million New York City apartments are facing rent increases of 2.75 percent on one-year leases and 5.25 percent on two-year leases, following a Rent Guidelines Board vote in an unusually empty Manhattan auditorium Monday night.

Organizations whose members typically pack the annual vote, and chant to disrupt it, opted instead to picket outside while some blocked an entrance to Hunter College’s Assembly Hall. Ten people were arrested, according to the NYPD, including state Assemblymembers Marcela Mitaynes and Zohran Mamdani.

The message from the assembled group was that the board process is not legitimate, due to outsized influence from Mayor Eric Adams. “All of us who are here today are making it clear that this is unconscionable, this is unacceptable, and if it means that we get arrested in order to make that explicit, so be it,” Mamdani told City Limits. 

The nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, made up of mayoral appointees, voted 5-4 for Monday’s hikes, which will impact leases signed during the 12 months starting Oct. 1. The dissenting votes came from the board’s tenant-aligned members, who called for a rent freeze, and landlord members, who sought larger increases.

Some tenants went inside to observe the vote and were puzzled by the relatively calm atmosphere. “They’re making noise outside, but who is hearing the noise?” Brooklyn tenant Jean Folkes asked. “I think they should come in.” 

But others were adamant about not participating, like Linda S. from the Bronx, who remained on the sidewalk all evening. “The message [to the board] was, we know you already made up your mind,” she said. 

Rent Guidelines Board vote

Adi Talwar

Tenants, advocates and elected officials protesting outside the Rent Guidelines Board meeting at Hunter College in Manhattan.

For tenants who choose one-year leases, this latest vote portends a more than 9 percent rent increase over the three years since Adams took office. By contrast, rent on one-year leases increased 2.26 percent during former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term, and 3.8 percent during his second. 

The third term of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, from 2010 to 2013, saw rents on one-year leases increase over 12.5 percent.

The math is concerning for Roxy Shweky, a rent stabilized tenant from Flatbush who traveled up to Hunter Monday to protest. Although she signed a two-year lease last year, she’s wary of what the future could hold, especially since losing her job. 

“We did a two year lease because we anticipated that this kind of thing would happen and that it would not really get much better,” she said. “Definitely it is a stressor on my part to have been laid off and now dealing with these increases.” 

The Adams administration has defended the board process as independent and data driven, though mayors have historically used their bully pulpits. De Blasio was known to call for rent freezes—there were three while he was in office, including in 2020 when the pandemic hit—while Adams has urged a balance between tenant and landlord concerns.

Above: The Rent Guidelines Board's members, and a nearly empty auditorium, during Monday's final vote.
Photos by Adi Talwar.

“We have to find a sweet spot,” Adams told reporters ahead of the vote. In a statement released afterwards, he said he was “grateful for the board’s careful consideration of the data and their decision to limit rent increases this year,” following a preliminary vote in May that foretold potentially larger hikes. 

Under rent stabilization, tenants are protected against eviction without cause. Beyond the limited rent adjustments determined each year, stabilized tenants can also request rent reductions if their landlords fail to maintain their apartments. 

Since March, members of the Rent Guidelines Board have been analyzing data prepared by board staff in an effort to understand the economic challenges landlords and tenants are facing. They’ve also heard testimony from both sides at a handful of public meetings around the city. 

Some landlord metrics have improved recently. For example, one annual board study calculates their net operating income (NOI), which is revenue after operating expenses, on a one-year lag. Citywide NOI for buildings with rent stabilized units increased 10.4 percent between 2021 and 2022, after falling nearly as much the year prior. 

The biggest gains took place in Manhattan south of West 110th and East 96th streets, where NOI increased 42.3 percent following a temporary pandemic dip. In the Bronx, by contrast, NOI dropped 14 percent. Brooklyn and Queens saw modest gains. 

Adi Talwar

The scene outside Hunter College at Monday's vote.

Buildings with at least six apartments that predate 1974 are generally covered by rent stabilization, as are newer buildings constructed using a state tax incentive. 

Kelly Farrell, a policy analyst for the Rent Stabilization Association, a trade organization for stabilized building owners, focused on the older buildings in comments to City Limits ahead of the vote. 

“Many of these buildings are 100 years old, some are even older than that,” she said. Rising insurance costs have been a particular pressure point for her members, she added: “You need to have insurance, so you’re left without many options.” 

Ann Korchak, of the landlord group Small Property Owners of New York, echoed this concern after the vote, and said that she’ll continue to put off replacing a boiler in one of her two buildings. “It’s quite old, it’s from the 60s,” she said. “We spend a lot of money maintaining it, ideally we should replace it.” 

But Tim Collins, a tenant attorney who served as counsel and executive director of the Rent Guidelines Board from 1987 to 1993, urged a long view of NOI, which he said indicates relative stability for rent stabilized property owners since the Great Recession. 

The board’s annual analysis shows inflation-adjusted NOI increasing 48.4 percent between 1990 and 2022, with an upward trend from 2009 to 2016. 

“What happened were excessive guidelines which were to a degree reigned in during the de Blasio administration,” Collins said in an interview Monday afternoon. “But they did not slam on the brakes and they did not correct for the overcompensation.” 

As for tenants’ economic conditions, average inflation-adjusted wages fell 6.1 percent from late 2022 to mid 2023, according to board analysis. Residential evictions also increased nearly 200 percent in 2023, hitting 12,139—still lower than 2019, before the pandemic slowed housing court.  

Photos by Adi Talwar.

Carmen Guzman Lombert, a rent stabilized tenant from Hell’s Kitchen, cheered the picketers on Monday evening. She said that she receives $1,800 per month in disability payments, and is able to cover her $1,331 rent. She recently managed to freeze that rent in perpetuity through the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Program. 

Still, there are the costs of food and transportation to contend with, plus financial support Guzman Lombert sends to her sister. “I want to be a filmmaker,” she said. But organizing with and supporting fellow tenants takes up a lot of her time. 

“Somebody could be the one that’s going to discover the cure to cancer or write the next great American novel,” she said. “They can’t do it because they spend most of their day just trying to stay housed.”

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