Op-Ed: Anti Freeze

Submitted by former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

New York City tenants were hoping for a freeze in June.

When the Rent Guidelines Board met earlier this week to set rent increases for leases due to expire during the 12 month period beginning on October 1, there was great anticipation that for the first time in history the board with its newly minted de Blasio appointments would vote for a zero percent increase. After all, the new mayor was supporting that position and legions of tenants and neighborhood groups were rallying around a rent freeze.

It did not happen. Instead the board voted for the lowest increases in history… a one percent increase for a one-year lease and a 2.75 percent increase for a two-year lease. That’s not bad. In other words for rent stabilized apartments currently renting for $2,000 per month the rent will rise by $20 a month for a one year lease renewal, and by $55 for a two year renewal. And of course if the rent for an apartment is lower than that the rent increase too will be lower. And while that is “not nothing” it’s not the triple digit dollar increases of past years that drove rents to an unaffordable level for many.

The purists will condemn this vote as a betrayal, but the truth is that a one percent rent increase for a one-year lease is a big victory for tenants. It is below the inflation rate and it is next to nothing. Even the two-year lease option which would lock in a 2.75 percent increase over a 24-month period of time will prove to be below the inflation rate for the next two years. Never before have tenants seen such miniscule adjustments, and it bodes well for the next three years of the de Blasio administration.

In the final analysis the Rent Guidelines Board hues pretty closely to the mayor’s views, depending of course on who the mayor is at any given time. The mayor’s position to some extent is informed by the economy at the moment and of course politics. Over the past 20 years the previous two mayors had close relationships with the real estate industry. The rent increases to some extent reflected those political relationships and views.

This mayor owes his election to the tens of thousands of left of center voters for whom big real estate is an anathema and villainous. So it is safe to predict that the mayor’s appointees to the board will err on the side of tenants when seeking to strike those elusive compromises which ultimately never fully satisfies the tenants or the landlords.

But make no mistake about it, the more extreme rhetoric notwithstanding, these rent guidelines represent a victory for tenants and a harbinger for things to come. If I was you, and my lease was expiring between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015, I would take the one-year lease option and take my chances again next year. At least that is what I advised my mother!

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