Assembly taking aim at MCIs, IAIs, vacancy de-control

Photo by Sidney Goldberg

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein during a recent tenant lobbying day in Albany (Photo by Sidney Goldberg)

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.

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Rent Guidelines Board vote and rent regulation debate are both on the horizon

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Spring has sprung and every four years in New York means one thing: that government decisions made at the city and state levels will be directly impacting the affordability of over a million stabilized apartments.

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is beginning the process of debating what this year’s increase will be for renters with its first meeting of the year set for this Thursday. The final vote will be made in late June.

The rent regulations that affect the city, made in the state’s capital, are also set to expire on June 15. Though they’re expected to be renewed, lobbying from both the real estate industry and tenants has already begun to hammer out the details.

Both parties will of course have their hands full in terms of advocacy. What this means for tenants, who don’t necessarily have the time to be in two places at once, is that they should prioritize Albany. So states Michael McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).

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March for Mueller report

 

By Sidney Goldberg

On Thursday evening, a protest was held to demand the full release of the Mueller report that began in Times Square and ended in Flatiron outside Madison Square Park.

The protest was organized by MoveOn.org together with the Nobody is Above the Law Coalition and was said to be one of almost 300 similar protests around the country yesterday.

There were protest songs led by the group Sing Out, Louise! and a few speakers, including the NYC public advocate, from a stage that was set up on Broadway.

Despite the large turnout of at least hundreds, the event was hampered by a delay in marching, with the crowd being held at Times Square and a half. This caused some grumbling among the participants about the need for all the stage time commanded by the speakers.

Small biz bills called helpful, but not enough

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, members of the City Council introduced a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses. They ranged from creating a registry of vacant retail spaces to having landlords sign a “certificate of no harassment” before getting construction permits to providing training to help small business owners digitally market themselves.

Since then, Town & Village reached out to operators of three local storefront businesses to ask if they thought the bills would help them — and if not, what would.

In response, Carole Husiak, who owns the Ibiza Kidz clothing shop in Stuyvesant Town, said she liked all the bills.

That said, Husiak doesn’t feel the bills address what she considers to have been her biggest problem as a business owner for the past 30 years — real estate taxes.

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Pied-à-Terre Tax killed in final budget

State Senator Brad Hoylman (center) discusses the Pied-a-Terre Tax at a February press conference. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A real estate tax bill sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman that had recently gotten its second wind after languishing in the capital for years has just been killed in the finalized state budget. After being fought tooth and nail by the real estate industry, what had been dubbed the Pied-à-Terre Tax was instead substituted with other tax increases.

The Pied-à-Terre tax, which would have been charged to owners of properties worth over $5 million that are not the owner’s primary residence, was besieged by accusations that it would gut the luxury market and even significantly reduce the value of impacted units.

Prior to its demise, Hoylman acknowledged all the controversy and various headlines surrounding it.

“We’re calling it the Pied-à-Scare Tactic,” he told T&V. “They’re trying every argument against it.”

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For one week, New Yorkers get a vote on how $1M in city money gets spent through participatory budgeting

Mar28 Asser_Levy_Recreation_Center

One of the possible projects is $250,000 in enhancements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents in City Council Districts 2 and 4 will get a chance to vote on improvements in their neighborhood during participatory budgeting vote week starting on March 30.

Councilmembers Keith Powers of District 4 and Carlina Rivera of District 2 solicited ideas for “capital” projects this past fall and volunteers went through the suggestions and picked roughly a dozen ideas per district that residents can vote on through April 7.

Powers, who represents Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Midtown East, Central Park South and the Upper East Side, has a handful of district-wide improvements that residents can vote on. One project, which would cost $200,000, would bring countdown clocks with real-time passenger information to bus stops throughout the district. Another project would resurface distressed roads for one mile of Council District 4 and would require $250,000 in funding. New plantings and tree guards throughout the district would cost $150,000.

Local residents can also vote for improvements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center across from Peter Cooper Village, which would provide new fitness equipment and flooring in the gym of the rec center and would cost $250,000.

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Drivers push back on congestion pricing

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured with Council Member Carlina Rivera and State Senator Brad Hoylman) held a town hall on congestion pricing last Thursday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Manhattan elected officials argued strongly in favor of congestion pricing at a public hearing last Thursday, but car-owning residents in attendance felt differently about the plan.

“This congestion was caused by the city allowing Uber and Lyft to put hundreds of cars on the streets that were already congested without charging any revenue for the city,” said attendee Sheila Williams. “If they had at least done that, they could have increased revenue and decreased the cars on the street, but now you want all of us to pay for this debacle and it’s already decimated the yellow cab industry.”

Manhattanites got the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the plan at a public hearing hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer at Cooper Union last Thursday evening. Many of the few hundred residents in attendance identified themselves as car-owners and suggested that residents who live in the area shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee just based on where they live.

“I do think that people living in the zone should be exempted from congestion pricing,” Stuy Town resident Lynn Janofsky said. “The only reason I have a car is to drive out of the city. I only go up or down the FDR and don’t drive in the city because I’m too worried about killing somebody, with the bikes, Ubers, pedestrians and phones. I have zero faith in the mayor to think things through before implementing something. For all of us who live in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and our six garages, we should be exempt.”

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Robo-call prevention bill passes in NY Senate committee

Mar28 Hoylman robocall bill

State Senator Brad Hoylman

On Tuesday, Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou announced that a bill of theirs aimed at banning robo-calls in the state of New York has passed in the Senate Committee.

The Robocall Prevention Act came in response to the scourge of the record number of robocalls placed in 2018, a total of 47.8 billion nationwide.

If signed into law, the RPA would:

  • Prohibit any person or entity from making robocalls to any telephone number owned by a person in New York State, unless for emergency purposes or with the prior express consent of the call recipient;
  • Require telephone service companies to have technology available that would block unwanted robocalls, free of charge to the consumer;
  • Give the State Attorney General new enforcement powers on robocalls and authorize new civil penalties of up to $2,000 per robocall, up to $20,000 for calls placed in violation of the law within a continuous 72-hour period; and
  • Grant New Yorkers a private right of action to go after violators themselves, and allow courts to award treble damages for those who knowingly violate the law.

“There isn’t an issue I hear more about from constituents than the proliferation of robocalls,” said Hoylman. “These calls aren’t just annoying — they’re dangerous, and often used to defraud unsuspecting consumers, seniors, and vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Hoylman first sponsored legislation last May.

City talks shop as lawmakers move to help mom-and-pops

Ahead of a hearing on several small business bills, City Council members including Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal (pictured with supporters), hold a rally at City Hall. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council is mulling a package of legislation aimed at protecting mom-and-pops that ranges from creating a registry to track storefront vacancies to providing affordable retail spaces at developments where owners collect $1 million or more in subsidies.

On Monday, the bills were debated at a hearing chaired by the City Council Small Businesses Committee Chair Mark Gjonaj, after a rally on the front steps of City Hall.

The piece of legislation that would require the city to maintain a vacancy registry is being sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos and Mark Levine as well as Speaker Corey Johnson. The registry would include the location of the property, the reasons for the vacancy, the owner’s name, contact information for the property and the day it became vacant. Property owners would be expected to register once a property is vacant for more than 90 days. Failure to register would result in a penalty of $1,000 for every week after that.

Another bill, sponsored by Rosenthal and Johnson, would require the city to maintain a database of commercial properties.

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Opinion: Help the SBJSA move forward

The following is an open letter from Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It has been edited for length.

Honorable Speaker Johnson:

I am disheartened that you refused to respond to my first request to meet and at least try to create compromise legislation to stop the closings of our city’s small businesses and save jobs. I took you at your word made at the October hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that you recognized a serious crisis existed and that you were committed to a solution and moving the bill (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) to a vote.

It is obvious to every small business owner that the grossly unfair lease renewal process places their futures and the futures of their employees in grave jeopardy when their leases expire. The empty storefronts on every main street make it obvious to every New Yorker that their beloved mom and pop businesses, having no rights nor protections from exorbitant rent increases, are desperate for government intervention to save them.

Putting aside the REBNY, Chambers, SBS and BID spins, false narratives, and insulting studies and fake worthless proposals, the majority of the city’s lawmakers also know their small businesses cannot survive without this legislation that gives rights to business owners in the critical lease renewal process.

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D.A., Council discuss recreational marijuana legalization

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance (Photos by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

On Wednesday, February 27, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing to call on the New York State legislature to pass laws to legalize recreational marijuana.

Testifying in favor of this proposal was Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance who’d been invited by the Council to discuss the issue.

“Last year, my office prosecuted 603 marijuana cases and this year we have prosecuted just 13 cases,” Vance said. After being questioned further, he added, “My office has decided to devote its resources to enforce public safety. Selling drugs is still an offense and we will prosecute. We do not want to waste money and take NYPD officers off their patrols for minor marijuana offenses.”

Vance also noted, “There are tests to detect alcohol-impaired driving. Unfortunately, there is no scientific test for Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, marijuana.”

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Tenants push for stronger rent regulations

Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.

At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.

Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.

“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”

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Council pushing pied-à-terre tax

State Senator Brad Hoylman discusses his legislation in Albany, which the Council is now actively supporting. (Pictured with Hoylman) Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Council Member Mark Levine and Assembly Member Deborah Glick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A few weeks after an out-of-state hedge fund billionaire purchased a $238 million penthouse apartment on Central Park South, two City Council members have introduced a resolution in support of a pied-à-terre tax.

Currently, in New York, non-residents are not subject to state or city income taxes and do not pay New York sales tax while outside the state. The proposed tax, which would affect homes that cost over $5 million if they’re not the owners’ primary residences, isn’t new. It was first introduced in 2014 by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. However, with Senate Democrats now in the majority in Albany, it has a better chance at getting passed this year than ever before.

The City Council resolution was essentially a show of support for the tax, made by Members Mark Levine and Margaret Chin. At a press conference in front of City Hall on Monday, Levine and other Manhattan lawmakers argued that such real estate investments by out-of-state and foreign buyers are keeping buildings dark while the city gets done out of badly needed revenue.

“It’s a surcharge on property tax, so we can capture taxes from people who don’t really live here,” added Glick, who was also at City Hall.

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Powers, Rivera trying to reduce renters’ fees

Councilmember Keith Powers at a rally last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

After hearing from tenants who’ve paid up to six months worth of rent in various fees just to get a lease, Council Members Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera have introduced a package of five bills aimed at giving renters a break.

So far, Powers said 26 members of the Council out of 51 have signed on as co-sponsors.

One bill, sponsored by Powers, would limit broker fees to one month’s rent, which seems to be the typical amount charged. However, in some cases renters are charged up to 15 percent of the annual rent. This bill has already seen some pushback by the Real Estate Board of New York.

REBNY has argued that limiting the amount that can be charged isn’t fair to brokers, because they work solely on commission. In response, Powers said that he intends to listen to any concerns, and isn’t completely opposed to the idea of there being some negotiation between broker and renter, but also says the current business model isn’t fair to renters.

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Public advocate race cheat sheet

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, New York voters will have the opportunity to elect the next public advocate, following the last occupant of this office, Letitia James, becoming the attorney general.

While this is a role with little governing power, it’s widely seen as a stepping stone for individuals looking to become mayor or to gain other prominent positions. As to why New Yorkers should bother with this race, there is also the fact that the office exists to be a watchdog, a check on the mayor. Meanwhile, the public advocate is also the first in line to assume the title of mayor if something were to happen to the mayor. The public advocate can also introduce and sponsor legislation.

This race has proven to be extraordinarily competitive with 17 people on the ballot (one of them inactive) in an open special election. Voters shouldn’t expect to just pick a random name that matches their party as candidates have come up with their own party lines. The competition won’t end after February 26, though. In September there will be a primary and in November, a general election.

Read on to learn a few details about each name on this race’s bloated ballot.

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