By Sabina Mollot
Although nothing is yet a done deal, on Tuesday night the State Assembly and Senate announced that the package of bills aimed at repealing vacancy decontrol, among other tenant protections, is being pushed forward by both chambers. A vote is expected to take place on Friday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign such a bill if it passes in both chambers.
The package’s protections for tenants, if signed into law, would:
- Make the rent regulations permanent, instead of sunsetting every four years
- Repeal vacancy deregulation and high-income deregulation, which has applied to residents whose household incomes were at least $200,000 for two years
- Repeal the vacancy bonus, which allows owners to raise the rents by 20 percent every time an apartment turns over
- Repeal the longevity bonus, which allows owners to raise rents on an apartment for new tenants based on the length of the previous tenancy
- Prohibit Rent Guidelines Boards from setting additional increases based on the current rental cost of a unit or the amount of time since the owner was authorized to take additional rent increases, such as a vacancy bonus
- Extend the period tenants have to file overcharge complaints from four years to six years
- Reduce the six percent cap on tenants’ rents for major capital improvements (MCI) increases to two percent while also having them be eliminated after 30 years instead of being paid in perpetuity. Additionally, 25 percent of all MCI projects would be audited to make sure they qualify for the reimbursement.
- Cap Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) rent increases at $15,000 over a 15-year-period with owners allowed a maximum of three IAIs during that time. Additionally, IAIs would last 30 years, rather than being permanently attached to the rent.
- Limit a provision that allows an owner to evict tenants for the reason of the owner or the owner’s immediate family moving into the property by limiting the eviction to one unit
- Keep units rented by nonprofits and individuals who’ve been housed by nonprofits in the rent-stabilization system
- Limit rent increases for rent-controlled tenants to the average of the five most recent RGB-issued increases for one-year renewals and also prohibit fuel pass-along charges
- Require the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) to submit an annual report of actions it is taking to protect tenants.
- Eliminate the option of evicting tenants when converting a building to condos or co-ops
- Establish rent stabilization as an option for counties statewide
- Ban the use of tenant blacklists and establish more protections for tenants who are fighting an eviction.
Following the announcement, TenantsPAC’s treasurer and spokesperson Michael McKee said he expected the governor, who McKee has openly stated his mistrust for many times, would be signing the legislation.
“The governor’s going to do it because he’s sort of trapped,” said McKee. “(If he didn’t sign) he’d be vetoing it. Andrew Cuomo has been outmaneuvered and we’re expecting him to sign the bill. They did this without consulting him and it’s driving him crazy.”
McKee doesn’t doubt the package will be passed by both houses as they have stated it would.
“We expect the bills to get passed by both houses,” he said. “(Cuomo) said, ‘I’ll sign anything that passes.’ Well, there you are, pal.”
While McKee called the reforms “an excellent, excellent bill,” he also doesn’t feel that they go far enough because apartments that have already been deregulated would not be reregulated. However, the veteran activist promised this is a fight tenants will take up next year, since it’s an election year.
“It’s disgraceful that market rate tenants are without protections,” said McKee.
In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie credited the fact that the bills have come this far to the Democrat majority.
They also said, “These reforms give New Yorkers the strongest tenant protections in history. For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state. These reforms will pass both legislative houses and we are hopeful that the governor will sign them into law. It is the right thing to do.”
The announcement has also been cheered by Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association. Before heading out on Wednesday alongside other TA members to Cuomo’s midtown office, where tenant activists rallied in support of the bills, Steinberg said, “It’s really been a long hard road. I’m over the moon.”
In an official statement, she added, “The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is proud to have fought the good fight all these years and to have participated as a member of Housing Justice 4 All, the upstate-downstate coalition that worked so hard on achieving the passage of these new pro-tenant laws. The bills will bring immediate relief as well as stability to our community. With a vote by the legislature and the governor’s signature, rent regulation is here to stay. The TA thanks NYS Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein for their incredible support and effort in bringing about a win for tenants.”
The real estate industry has pushed back hard against the bills, arguing they will only lead to blight with landlords not improving their properties.
A spokesperson for the Real Estate Board of New York didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
A spokesperson for the governor didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.