Tenant-friendly bills idle in Albany

Pending legislation aims to reform the Rent Guidelines Board. Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

Pending legislation aims to reform the Rent Guidelines Board.
Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Sabina Mollot
For years, tenant-friendly politicians (Assembly Democrats) have been pushing in Albany for legislation aimed at keeping housing affordable and protecting renters’ rights while the real estate-friendly pols (Senate Republicans) have successfully pushed back.
While local legislators Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman have admitted they don’t know if this year will be any different once the legislative session starts up again after the summer, they are of course going to continue to try to get the bills, which have passed the Assembly, get through the Senate in one piece this time.Tenant-related laws were last strengthened somewhat in 2011 after years of being weakened due to landlord pressure. They included changing the rent increase owners can charge for renovating apartments from 1/40th to 1/60th of the rent and killing a bill that would have legislatively undone the effects of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit. Additionally, high-income decontrol levels, which previously deregulated apartments where tenants paid $2,000 in rent and earned $175,000 a year in household income were raised to $2,500 and $200,000, respectively.
However, there was no effect on major capital improvement (MCI) fees or vacancy bonuses, nor was there a change to vacancy decontrol. Home rule was also not returned from the state to the city.
Currently, these are the major tenant-related bills that have so far passed the Assembly, but have been rejected by state senators:

1. Reform of the Rent Guidelines Board—This bill would give the City Council more oversight in the selection of the nine people who sit on the board. Currently, they are chosen by Mayor Bloomberg, and tenant advocates have criticized the board’s five “public members” as being owner-biased.
The bill would mean those who want to serve as public, tenant or owner members would have to explain why they want the unpaid job, which involves getting heckled at every public appearance, and what experience they have that qualifies them to decide the fates of over a million rent-stabilized New Yorkers.

2. Limiting of MCI fee payment period—Major capital improvements are fees landlords can charge to recoup their costs for necessary improvements they make on their properties, on top of tenants’ regular rent. However, even after the projects are paid off, the fees still remain on tenants’ rent bills. This means MCIs can end up being big business for owners, and in 2009, after meeting with the state housing agency, ST-PCV Tenants Association leaders learned that 20 percent of the MCI requests in the city came from ST/PCV alone.
If this bill is passed, the charge for an MCI would be paid off in a period of seven years and then taken off a tenant’s rent bill.
“So it doesn’t become permanent,” said Kavanagh, “which gives landlords incentive to do things that are not necessarily in the best interest of the building or tenants.”

3. Repeal of vacancy decontrol—While at this time, residents in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village are rent-stabilized because of the outcome of “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer,” Kavanagh pointed out that vacancy decontrol will be allowed once again to turn vacated apartments in ST/PCV to market rate once the property’s J-51 tax benefits expire in 2020. Repealing vacancy decontrol would obviously remove incentive for landlords to churn out apartments in the hopes of getting a new tenant to pay market rate.

4. Lowering of vacancy bonuses—Currently, every time a rent-stabilized apartment is vacated, an owner can raise the next tenant’s rent by 20 percent. This bill would lower that amount to seven percent. This, bill, too, is aimed at reducing a landlord’s incentive to encourage apartment turnover.

5. Elimination of “preferential rents”—Currently, in many cases in the city, owners charge what’s referred to as “preferential” rents to tenants, while also explaining that legally, the charge could be higher. This has led to confusion among tenants, in particularly those who are new to rent-regulated housing.
Kavanagh, however, said he considers the policy a bait-and-switch scheme. Because, he said, when the lease is next up for renewal, a tenant’s rent can be increased drastically up to the legal rent. If the bill is passed, once a tenant’s rent is set, there couldn’t be any hike at the next renewal other than what has been issued by the Rent Guidelines Board.
“In many parts of the city, they use preferential rents to get you into apartments,” said Kavanagh.

Additionally, although not exactly housing related, one bill that Hoylman said he believes will ultimately help tenants is campaign finance reform. Through this act, he believes, more Senate members will support tenants rather than the real estate industry.
He added that he thought the act does have some legs, in part due to a commission started by Governor Cuomo this summer that will investigate legislators and possibly uncover misconduct, including over issues that are campaign finance related. It’s unlikely, however that anything will happen this year, since the commission won’t be reporting on its findings until December.

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Editorial: Stringer clear choice for comptroller

Borough President Scott Stringer, pictured with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick, marching in the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade in April  Photo by Sabina Mollot

Borough President Scott Stringer, pictured with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick, marching in the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade in April
Photo by Sabina Mollot

Since his late entry into the race for city comptroller, former Governor Eliot Spitzer has garnered the lion’s share of the press out of the two candidates, though his rival, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, has also proven to be no slouch in that department.
Naturally, much of the headlines have focused on the hooker scandal that ended Spitzer’s career as governor rather than debates over whether Stringer or Spitzer is better equipped for the job of keeping an eye on the city’s books. It is worth noting though, that the media’s (and readers’ and viewers’) fascination with Spitzer’s past is hardly unfair, given it involved illegal activities. His attempt to re-enter the world of politics constantly brings to mind the debate of whether or not lawmakers who break the law should be forgiven and given a second chance. Ultimately, on Primary Day, September 10, the people will decide if they do.
However, we hope that New Yorkers make it clear that they don’t want to hire a hypocrite. Especially since there is another candidate, who (so far at least) has proven himself to be a law abiding citizen and, in his function as borough president, has become very much in the know about what New Yorkers’ needs are, and therefore where their tax dollars need to be spent and where they don’t.
On the one hand, Stringer, like, Spitzer, is no CPA, so their respective goals of becoming comptroller don’t seem like obvious job choices for either of them, but in politics, sometimes it’s just about entering the race in which the odds of winning seem higher. And this particular race at one point appeared to be a shoo-in for Stringer. The current standoff, however, with Spitzer’s name recognition and real estate money and Stringer’s own impressive war chest and celebrity endorsements, show that both of these guys mean business.
Still, we believe that of the two, Stringer is simply the better man for the job and he has our endorsement.
While normally, no one from this newspaper would even be focusing on the race for comptroller, the fact is that due to Spitzer’s salacious past, this race, like the one for mayor (in part due to the campaign of former Congressman and serial sexter Anthony Weiner), has attracted citywide interest.
But there may some distinct local interest as well. Residents of the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village community may recall that Stringer, long before he ran for comptroller (ending that particular dream for Dan Garodnick) has been a supporter of residents here. He wrote an amicus brief for the tenants in the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit and has seldom missing a meeting held by the Tenants Association.
He also, along with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, has dreamt up the East River Blueway plan, which will revitalize the riverfront from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 38th Street, making the East Side of Manhattan more prepared for the next natural disaster while also giving area residents something they’ve never had before ― access to the water, complete with kayaks and beaches.
Stringer’s other projects in the past year alone have included unveiling the “Veggie Van,” a mobile greenmarket for underserved communities, releasing a report detailing the concerns of NYCHA residents about safety in their homes and releasing another report revealing deplorable conditions at local animal shelters.

Letters to the Editor, Aug. 15

Fences ruin Stuy Town’s open setting

My family and I have a long history in Stuyvesant Town. My grandparents moved into Stuyvesant Town in 1947. My parents moved here as well in the 1980s. I grew up here.

Recently my friends and I went on a tour with the intention of moving in. I was upset to see they have fenced much of the grounds with tall fencing. It was surprising to see given the fact there had been no fences up for the past several years. I grew up here when the lawns were strictly off limits.

It was a fantastic change taking down that old-fashioned barrier chain link, and in effect getting rid of old fashioned thinking that lawns were off limits. My friends and I spend a lot of time outside and I have a dog. We can’t afford to live near Central Park. And if we did certainly we would not be fenced out of it.

I asked the leasing agent about the fencing (hoping it is temporary) only to receive an evasive response.

The Stuyvesant Town website specifically states “Manhattan Living With An 80-Acre Backyard” and “… live in a park — to live in the country in the heart of New York.” Paying market rates I would expect access to this park. The Oval lawn is nice if you don’t mind being elbow to elbow with hundreds of people.

After a little research I found out the owners are fencing in the lawns and gardens to possibly sell the property in the near future. By making the grounds look more manicured maybe they will get more money? In the meantime they have indefinitely ruined the best feature of living here: the open setting. By that I mean the views (now obstructed) and freedom to step off the sidewalks and respectfully enjoy the open spaces.

L. Platt 

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