Renters around city call for change in law
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
A few board members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association joined in a chorus of tenant leaders from around the city at a rally against preferential rents and the unexpectedly steep increases they allow landlords to charge.
The event, also a tenant town hall meeting, was held in the Bronx last Thursday. The Real Rent Reform Campaign hosted the rally, which was attended primarily by Bronx residents and community groups but also tenants from Manhattan and Brooklyn, at the True Witness Shiloh Apostolic Church in the Allerton neighborhood and was attended by about 100 tenants and community organizers.
Tenant advocates at the meeting from the Bronx Park East Community Association, Alliance for Tenant Power, the Met Council on Housing and the Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation offered information for residents on preferential rent, vacancy bonuses and the possible renewal of the 421A tax breaks.
Andrew Laiosa, a community organizer in and tenant of the Bronx, explained that a legislative change in 2003 meant that landlords had the right to revert to the legal rent with lease renewals. Preferential rent is the amount of rent that the owner agrees to charge even though the regulated rent the owner could lawfully collect is actually higher.
Raphael Schweizer of BPECA noted that this was essentially a one word change. Where the law used to say “upon tenancy,” it was modified to say “upon lease renewal,” meaning that an existing tenant could be hit with a major rent increase when renewing their lease, despite being rent stabilized.
TA board member and Peter Cooper Village resident Anne Greenberg offered testimony at the meeting, arguing that the language in ST/PCV leases concerning preferential rent and other rent-related issues is often confusing for tenants.
“Lots of people don’t even understand what they’re signing,” she said. “This community started in 1947. It was stable and people could really put down roots but it’s not like that anymore.”
Hazel Miura, Director of Housing and Community Development at NIDC, echoed this sentiment, noting that many long-term tenants are now getting pushed out of the Bronx as well.
“After the Bronx, there’s really nowhere else to go but Florida,” she said.
Community organizers at the meeting urged tenants to put pressure on local elected officials to become co-sponsors of the bill to repeal the preferential rent loophole and the bill to repeal the vacancy bonus, which advocates at the meeting referred to as an “eviction bonus,” saying that landlords use it as an incentive to allow buildings to fall into disrepair and file frivolous lawsuits against tenants.
Advocates at the meeting also noted that the real estate tax abatement known as 421A has expired, and tenants should encourage local politicians to put pressure on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to oppose renewal of the tax break unless the preferential rent loophole and vacancy bonuses are repealed.
“Our elected officials need to come out and speak for us,” Bronx resident Keith Davis said at the meeting during his testimony. “I know this is a church but I just have to say, the rent is too damn high.”