Opinion: Same fight, different jersey

By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

In the ‘90s, New York’s legislature sold out tenants and tipped the scales in favor of big landlords by passing the Rent Regulation Reform Act. This piece of legislation passed in both houses, its sponsors claiming to be sticking up for the mythological “mom and pop” landlord, whose profits were supposedly being squeezed by rent regulation.

Among the most damaging provisions of the act was the invention of “vacancy decontrol” which, since its inception, has eroded New York’s stock of affordable housing by jacking up rents on units if tenants leave or are forced out by unscrupulous landlords seeking to cash in on another perversity of the act: the vacancy bonus.

The assault on tenants has not abated. In response, community groups have had to rise to the occasion and tirelessly defend tenants against the bad actor landlords playing with a stacked deck. I am proud to have been fighting to keep tenants in their homes for decades and as your new Assembly Member, I am eager to continue the fight having acquired a different set of tools to work with and new opportunities to win victories for tenants. The struggle is the same, but my election to the Assembly will afford new ways to achieve our goals.

Small business owners have even fewer protections than residential tenants –– they are at the mercy of their landlords, who have no constraints on how much rents can be raised.

In addition, commercial landlords can refuse to renew a lease, pulling the rug out from under beloved small businesses that have worked to establish a local clientele. I plan to introduce legislation by the end of the session that will afford small business owners more protections and predictability with respect to their tenancy. It would create a right like residential rent regulation creates, the right to renewal leases and increases determined by the Rent Guidelines Board.

I am happy to be in a position where I am able to empower and amplify the vital work that the community organizations in our neighborhoods have been doing for years. The struggle for more affordable housing and tenant protections depends on the success of these groups and I am eager to use the all the powers of my office to help them be as effective as possible.

Having spent many years working from the outside lobbying legislators on behalf of tenants, I am as determined as ever to secure victories for tenants and affordable housing advocates by working from inside the legislature. I now have the opportunity and the responsibility to push forward new legislation that goes even further to protect tenants. I am also emboldened by the prospect of a Democratic majority in the State Senate, which would enable us to finally pass vital legislation to protect and develop affordable housing.

This includes priorities like repealing vacancy deregulation to keep more rent-stabilized apartments online, ending the vacancy bonus that incentivizes tenant harassment and expanding mandatory inclusionary housing to require all developers to designate a percentage of new units affordable. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the housing advocates in our community to do this essential work that will make our city and state a better place to live for renters. You have a strong ally in me.

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3 thoughts on “Opinion: Same fight, different jersey

  1. More same old. If you aren’t talking about putting Simcha Felder on the spot, taking over the Senate majority, getting real legislative traction and repealing the Urstadt Act, these are just more well-intentioned words.

    Bear in mind, several vacancy decontrol reversal bills have languished in the Senate for many years, never brought to the floor by the GOP majority leader.

    Best to take it from Elvis. A little less conversation, a little more action please.

  2. The old LaGuardia commercial rent regulation is, today, reportedly opposed by the city’s premier small business advocate, Sung Soo Kim, simply because of the wanton corruption among REBNY, the mayor, and certain key members of the council.

    Kim reportedly sees renewed talk of commercial rent control, last raised by Ruth Messinger thirty years ago, as a deflection from the mayor and the council refusing to have so much as a hearing on the Small Business Protection Act, which is, itself, likely a deflection from the council’s inaction on commercial rents.

    The city could adopt formula business zoning in however long it would take to make a zoning change under ULURP if it had the political will and was not under the thumb of the REBNY donor base.

    Formula business zoning would, at least in the retail sector, limit the number of “formula” businesses (i.e., chain store/ chain restaurant / bank branch) , in any commercially zoned district, effectively reserving space for “Mom & Pop” retailers like tailors and cobblers, coffee shops, single venue retail shops, florists, barbers, etc.

    I’ve been advocating the notion, which is already in effect in several municipalities, , including San Francisco, for several years now. But you can’t get so much as a hearing to discuss it.

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