Editorial: Same old, same old at the RGB

On the heels of tenants’ bargaining power getting stripped away in Albany through the renewal of 421a and the de-coupling of the tax break’s expiration date with that of the rent regulations, the Rent Guidelines Board made it clear that it’s not considering the rent rollback tenants have asked for or even another freeze.

Additionally, the city’s stabilized landlords, represented by the group Rent Stabilization Association, feel they need a win after losing a lawsuit in March charging that last year’s rent freeze wasn’t valid.

So despite this being an election year, in which a pro-tenant mayor is hoping to get reelected, there probably won’t be another freeze. The rent increase ranges voted on Tuesday night, 1-3 percent for a one-year lease, 2-4 percent for a two-year lease, are just preliminary, but there’s also no reason to believe there could still be a freeze without bringing new, significant evidence to light that could change the board members’ minds.

Landlords have made the argument that it costs big bucks to run buildings properly, even more so in the past year, and tenants did already get two years of a freeze if they signed a one-year lease. A small business owner (as the RSA insists most landlords are) who can’t make ends meet because the rent is too damn low does sound like a legit argument indeed.

However, from tenants’ perspective, there’s also plenty of struggling in order to make the rent each month. The freezes were a much-needed break.

However, there are still plenty of other ways that even stabilized rents can find a way to sneak back up despite a freeze. Major capital improvements and raising preferential rents suddenly to maximum legal rents have still been perfectly legal options for owners. Further, even with two straight years of a freeze, the rents did go up every single year before that for decades, even during the recession. So it’s not as though tenants haven’t done their part to keep their buildings from crumbling.

As for the argument that stabilized rents, if the increases are too low for landlords’ liking, will just have to be made up by market raters, this threat is just as insulting to all tenants’ intelligence as it is vicious. If landlords attempt to shake down market raters any more than they’ve already been doing, then the real estate bubble will burst once again and they will have no one to blame but themselves.

But this argument, along with others from individual tenants, about how they will personally be impacted by rent increases, apparently still need to be repeated for the millionth time and then some.

Will this make a difference in the RGB’s final decision? We honestly have no idea, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the stories of New Yorkers need to be heard as told by those individuals experiencing them so they can’t be interpreted solely by others’ stats.

The increase will be officially voted on at a meeting on June 27, but before that, there will be opportunities for the public to give testimony. One of the hearings will take place in Lower Manhattan on June 14 from 2-8 p.m. at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green. For the full meeting schedule, visit housingnyc.com.

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