By Sabina Mollot
With the rent regulations set to expire on June 15, the New York State Assembly has set public hearings on May 2 and 9 to discuss a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the current laws.
Among the legislation includes a bill that would end major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and also require the state housing agency to create a program ensuring property owners maintain a certain level of repair. MCIs are charges tacked on to a tenant’s rent to pay for improvements to the property.
“The major capital improvement rent increase program is a flawed system which has been overly complex for property owners to navigate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, “and has been a great disservice in our efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock.”
Another bill would end individual apartment improvements (IAI). Under the current law, landlords are allowed to raise rent after making IAIs, which can range from cosmetic repairs to redoing various rooms.
The bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Diana Richardson, said IAIs have been the “key factor” to gentrifying her community.
She added, “170,000 families have been displaced from rent stabilized apartments with the help of Individual Apartment Improvement increases, which invite landlord fraud.”
The Assembly’s longtime goals of ending vacancy de-control and vacancy bonuses, rent increases issued after a tenant moves, haven’t changed. Another bill would reform the preferential rent system so that future rent increases for a tenant receiving a preferential rent would be based on that rent rather than the maximum legal rent that could currently be charged upon any renewal.
Another bill would extend a lookback window for tenants who realize they’ve been overcharged by their landlord. The bill would extend the period to file a complaint from four years to six.
Also included in the package is a bill to support tenants of limited-profit housing, also known as Mitchell-Lama housing. The bill would protect tenants living in former Mitchell-Lama buildings that have voluntarily left the program by ensuring tenants can continue to afford to live in their apartments.
The Assembly has been, in recent years, pro-tenant in rent regulation season, which comes every four years, although the State Senate, which had a Republican majority until this year, would vote against most of the bills. Local Democrat elected officials in Albany have been promising 2019 will be the year of the tenant.
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, who is a co-sponsor of all the aforementioned bills, said tenants should show up to the upcoming hearings, in particular on May 2 starting at 11 a.m. and running through 5 p.m. with another evening session starting at 6 p.m. The location is 250 Broadway in the Assembly hearing room, 1923. Anyone wishing to speak is asked to fill out a form available on the Assembly’s website.
The location of the May 9 hearing hasn’t yet been announced.
“We really need a lot of people to come and show up,” said Epstein. “It’s part of a process. It’s a three-way negotiation. It’s us, the Senate and the governor’s office. We need allies to push the most aggressive package possible.”
In New York City alone, there are 5.5 million renters, which make up 66 percent of all households, according to stats cited by the Assembly. Roughly one third of those renting households are considered severely rent burdened, paying 50 percent or more of their household income toward gross rent.
According to the Community Service Society’s “The Unheard Third 2017,” 50 percent of low-income residents they interviewed would not be able to afford a $25 per month increase in rent.