By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein’s office sponsored a forum on Thursday at the NYU Dental School on East 24th Street regarding the rent laws that passed in June to answer questions that tenants have about rent regulation and affordable housing protections.
State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Ben Kallos, were also in attendance, and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson was available to answer questions about the complex aspects of the new laws.
“The MCI section [of the rent laws] is just like MCIs: very complicated,” Davidson said of one of the parts of the law most difficult to understand. “[The Division of Housing and Community Renewal] will have to set a schedule of reasonable costs of what can be recovered but they have to do it quickly because they can’t do any work until it’s approved.”
One of the victories that state legislators claimed in the passage of the rent laws was an annual cap on MCIs, or major capital improvements, at 2%. The previous cap was 6%. The new law also caps the amount that a landlord can pass on to tenants after a vacant apartment is renovated at $89, while also eliminating the previous 20% vacancy bonus that landlords could add after tenants moved out.
Tenants at the forum expressed concern that limiting increases through MCIs and IAIs (individual apartment increases) might prompt landlords to let apartments deteriorate, but Davidson said that owners are obligated to keep apartments and buildings in good repair.
“MCIs and IAIs aren’t meant to apply to routine maintenance so tenants can file for a diminution of services,” she said. “Landlords didn’t do routine maintenance in the past as a way to force tenants out, even though it would’ve been cheaper for them just to maintain the buildings. We’re hoping that they’ll see it’s in their best interest to do repairs when they come up.”
One question relegated to Glick asked if rent-stabilized tenants still needed their rent-stabilized apartment to be their primary residence, and Glick said yes, also adding that succession rights on rent-stabilized apartments are in effect.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t visit your aunt for a month in Florida in the cold months,” she said of the question about primary residence. “But where you vote and where your car is registered should be here.”
Another question suggested a proposal that would prevent seniors from ever getting evicted for any reason, and Glick said that such a proposal was not being considered.
“But there are many ways that all tenants are protected now, not just seniors,” she said.
Hoylman received a question regarding a lawsuit that building owners have filed, and whether or not that will impact the protections that passed.
“There’s been no temporary restraining order to suspend the laws and the laws went into effect immediately,” Hoylman said, with Davidson adding that it was unlikely they would get overturned.
“The only way the laws would get overturned is if the courts decide that apartments can’t be regulated at all, but that’s especially radical,” she said. “There was previously a 9-0 decision in the Supreme Court upholding rent control. I don’t think it’s getting to the Supreme Court but if it does, it will be 9-0 again.”
Limits were also placed on security deposits in the new laws, meaning that landlords can only collect one month of security for all renters. (Security deposits were already capped to one month for rent-stabilized tenants.) The limits are similar to legislation from Councilmembers Rivera and Powers introduced earlier this year that would cap the amount that renters are charged for a broker hired by a landlord at one month of rent, as well as limiting security deposits to one month’s rent.
Brandon Kielbasa, director of organizing and policy at the Cooper Square Committee, encouraged tenants to get involved in order to hold landlords accountable.
“Organizing is key to making sure that buildings stay maintained,” he said. “Forming a tenants association is your strongest weapon and the strongest way to do that.”
Krueger noted at the forum that some tenants have expressed disappointment to her about additional protections that weren’t included, but she said that the legislature will continue to make adjustments.
“We’re not done. We just set a base,” she said. “Our next step is to put unregulated units back into regulation. There’s nothing that encourages like success. We’re going to continue the fight for the expansion of actual affordable housing.”