Landlord lawsuit over rent freeze delayed

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Back in September, a tenant and civic group-led coalition sought to intervene in a lawsuit that was aimed at blocking the Rent Guidelines Board’s decision in June to issue a rent freeze. The lawsuit had been filed by the Rent Stabilization Association, a group representing 25,000 New York City landlords who own rent regulated properties.

Two months later, while a decision still had not yet been made, the tenant group planned — but then abruptly canceled — a protest on the matter. This was after Supreme Court Justice Debra James, in mid-November, adjourned the case to January 31, 2017.

Harvey Epstein, attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which was one of the groups trying to intervene in the lawsuit, said the judge adjourned after a landlord group also attempted to intervene. This group, he said, is SPONY (Small Property Owners on New York Inc.) But while this means having to wait longer for a decision, Epstein said the delay isn’t a bad thing for tenants.

“People still have a zero (rent increase for a one-year lease) so there’s no harm to tenants,” he said. “The longer it is, it still doesn’t hurt.”

On its website, SPONY mentions that its members have spoken at every RGB meeting and that they “personally lobby each public member before the final vote.”

An emailed request for comment to SPONY wasn’t returned.

The tenant group, dubbed the Rent Justice Coalition, includes organizations from around the city with legal representation by Legal Aid Society, Goddard Riverside and the Urban Justice Center.

The lawsuit was based on the RSA’s argument that tenant affordability should not have been factored into the RGB’s decision, which impacts over a million city households.

“Nowhere does the law provide that the RGB is supposed to consider the subject of affordability when determining rent guidelines,” said Joseph Strasburg, the president of the RSA, when the suit was filed in June. “Affordability is an issue that should be addressed not by the RGB, but through government-sponsored rent relief subsidies to tenants actually in need.”

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