By Assemblymember Steven Sanders
The Jewish festival of Passover is just around the corner. Families will gather at the Seder table where the ancient and traditional question will be asked “Why is this night different from all other nights?” But for tenants in New York City the most pressing question is: Will this year be different from all other years… and if so why?
Every spring around this time the Rent Guidelines Board meets to recommend rent increase adjustments for rent stabilized apartment lease renewals and vacancy allowances for new leases during the next 12 to 24 months beginning on October 1.
Moreover, some tenants also get notified of additional permanent rent increases from major capital improvement (MCI) work done in their buildings. Sometimes those MCIs amount to little more than necessary longterm maintenance which is required to keep buildings in good repair. Yet the owner can reap significant profits from tenants who continue to pay for those projects long after the owner has recouped the costs for their MCI project.
There is reason to believe that much of this may change this year.
It has been said, especially of late, that “elections have consequences.” The result of the statewide elections last November was that the state legislature was won by the Democrats. So now both the Assembly and the Senate have Democratic Party controlled majorities. The Democrats campaigned on reforming our antiquated rent regulation laws.
And while nobody expects that the Rent Guidelines Board will be disbanded nonetheless changes may be in the offing, which will impact how rent increases are determined as well as fixing the unfairness associated with rent increases stemming from MCIs.
At this point, some building owners are beginning to cringe. But for too long the real estate industry has had a stranglehold over much needed tenant protection actions in the state legislature. The previous Republican Party majority in the Senate which was overwhelmingly suburban and upstate was always the place where owners found a sympathetic ear and where pro-tenant legislation went to die. That situation is now changed… elections have consequences.
So what might we expect?
When the legislature returns from its Spring break in several weeks taking up the issue of rent laws and tenant protections will be front and center according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. And significantly, Senator Brian Kavanagh is the new chairman of the Senate Housing Committee.
I expect that vacancy decontrol and the enormous increases that an owner can derive from vacated apartments will be minimized. I expect that the parameters around how the RGB determines the level of rent increases upon renewals will be modified and I expect that the permanent nature of MCI rent increases will be ended.
Of course I could be wrong about what Albany may do. After all I still open the door at Seder for Elijah and to my knowledge he has never arrived. But this year I think things may have a different ending in Albany. Elections have consequences.