Rent will go up 1.25, 2 percent

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Tenants play limbo at the vote. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The city’s rent-stabilized renters will be seeing increases of 1.25 percent for one-year leases and 2 percent for two-year leases.

The increases were voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board on Tuesday evening, after two years of rent freezes for one-year leases, frustrating tenants as well as landlords.

Tenant advocates and community groups were pushing for at least another freeze and in many cases a rollback, but owner representatives felt that the increases didn’t go far enough.

Tenant member Harvey Epstein said in his remarks prior to introducing the proposal that ultimately passed that he and Sheila Garcia, the second tenant member on the board, knew tenants needed a rollback or at least a freeze, but he said that neither were possible at this year’s vote.

“It’s our job to do the best we can and live with the political realities,” Epstein said. “We take this job seriously and today is the first day to move to a better system.”

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Tenants and homeless protest side by side at ‘Cuomoville’

A protest for stronger rent laws spanned three days outside the governor’s midtown office. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant activists, including some who are homeless, gathered in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s midtown office for three days last week from Wednesday evening to Saturday to demand rent reform in Albany.

A coalition of tenant groups organized the efforts, including New York Communities for Change, Tenant Power NY, Community Voices Heard and others. The groups dubbed the temporary encampment on the sidewalk “Cuomoville,” and linked the governor’s failure to enact stronger rent laws with the increase in homelessness throughout the city.

Gigi Morgan, an activist from Brooklyn who currently lives in a women’s shelter in Harlem, was at the protest on Friday morning after having slept there Thursday night and participating on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Steinberg shoots down RSA’s argument that MCIs are ‘laughable’

ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

At a Manhattan hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board, where both landlords and tenants were invited each year to give testimony on their respective suffering, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg took umbrage at one owner representative’s argument that MCIs are not sufficient rent increases.

She spoke up after Rent Stabilization Association president Jack Freund, whose organization represents landlords throughout the city, said at the hearing that Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) and preferential rent increases don’t offer enough income to sustain landlords.

“You cannot substitute MCI increases for maintenance and operating rent increases,” he said. “MCIs have nothing to do with this issue and the suggestion that preferential rents somehow should play into this, that you can eliminate the need for rent increases because owners can increase rent (with MCIs and preferential rent increases), is a ludicrous notion. Both of those suggestions, that MCIs and preferential rent increases, can somehow substitute for a necessary, across-the-board rent increase, are just laughable.”

Later, Steinberg, who said she’d originally planned to read pre-written testimony, changed her mind in order to respond to Freund.

“Perhaps he forgot that MCIs get onto a tenant’s rent in perpetuity,” she said during her testimony. “It goes way beyond recouping the landlord’s costs and if you’re a tenant living in a building and have received several MCIs that get added permanently on top of the RGB increases, that adds up really fast. Maybe it’s laughable for the landlord but it sure isn’t for tenants.”

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Tenants, landlords both plead their case

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Each year, prior to the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board that determines the increases the city’s stabilized renters will have to pay, tenant advocates as well as real estate industry professionals both make impassioned pleas at public hearings.

At one such hearing last Thursday, tenant advocates called for a rent freeze while landlords pushed for increases.

Tim Collins, head counsel for the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a former executive director of the board, noted that while last year he had urged the board to roll back rents, this year he was advocating for a rent freeze.

“The price index is significant but when weighted against other economic factors, a rent freeze would be appropriate,” he said.

Collins explained that he wasn’t basing his decision on tenant welfare.

“Although I respect and am concerned about people left out by poverty and one of the barriers to a decent life is housing, but the board shouldn’t focus on making every apartment affordable,” he said. “But the board also shouldn’t focus on making every owner profitable. If you look at what you’ve done, what prior boards have done, all told since 1990 (increases have been) higher than what is needed to keep owners whole.”

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RGB’s preliminary vote: 1-3 percent for one-year-leases, 2-4 percent for two-year leases

ST-PCV Tenants Association members Wendy Byrne, Anne Greenberg, Al Doyle and Jimmy Walker at a pre-vote rally (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

At a typically raucous meeting attended by around 125 tenants, the Rent Guidelines Board made a preliminary vote for a rent increase that ranged from 1-3 percent for tenants signing a one-year lease and 2-4 percent for those signing a two-year lease. The motion for those amounts was made by the board chair Kathleen Roberts who got a 5:4 majority. Both the board’s tenant and owner members opposed it.

Landlord member Mary Serafy had called for a 4 percent increase for one-year leases and 6 percent for two-year leases. Tenant member Sheila Garcia had requested rollbacks for tenants in buildings where owners had raised rent through other means like major capital improvements or individual apartment improvements over the last three years while suggesting ranges of zero to two percent for tenants in other buildings. Like the landlords’ proposal, however, the motion was shot down 7:2.

Serafy had made the argument that market rate tenants, along with landlords, would suffer if there was a third rent freeze, with landlords trying to make up the lost income. She also pointed out that operating costs were up 6.2 percent.

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Costs up for owners of rent stabilized buildings, RGB says

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Mike McKee of TenantsPAC

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Prices have increased 6.2 percent for owners of rent stabilized buildings in the last year, a study released by the Rent Guidelines Board last Thursday found.

RGB executive director Andrew McLaughlin said that one of the main factors for this increase was a 24.6 percent increase in fuel costs due to the year’s winter weather, which was reportedly colder than average.

However, RGB tenant member Harvey Epstein expressed concern and confusion about the reported increase in fuel costs, noting that 2016 was one of the hottest years on record. McLaughlin explained that the winter was 18 percent colder than the previous year, based on comparing each month to those in the previous year, and there were more days in which the average temperature was lower than 65 degrees.

The increase in fuel costs from 2016 to 2017 contrasted sharply with prices from the previous year, when fuel cost decreased 41.2 percent and by 21 percent the year before that. The decrease in last year’s fuel costs contributed to the negative price index in 2016, at -1.2.

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Baruch professor appointed as a public member of RGB

Hilary Botein said she was surprised to be asked to serve on the board. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Botein)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced two new appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board — the same day the board held its first meeting to help determine this year’s rent increase (or freeze) for over a million households.

One was real estate professor and lawyer David Reiss. The other was Hilary Botein, an attorney and associate professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who teaches courses on housing and community development policy. Both she and Reiss are now public members, replacing K. Sabeel Rahman and Steven Flax.

Reached on the phone after Botein attended her first RGB meeting as an active participant, she told Town & Village the call from the mayor’s office came as a surprise. However, saying yes to the unpaid position wasn’t difficult for Botein, who’s been to many RGB hearings and meetings as an observer and has also sent her students to the often raucous forum for assignments.

“It is a lot of work and a big responsibility,” she said, “but I also felt it was an opportunity to bring my experience and knowledge of housing in New York to (impact) millions of people.”

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Stabilized buildings in ST, Gramercy saw highest rent hikes in city from 2014-2015

Harvey Epstein, a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, pictured at last year’s preliminary vote (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rent-stabilized buildings in the Stuyvesant Town and Gramercy area had the greatest increases in rent in Manhattan from 2014 to 2015, a study released by the Rent Guidelines Board found.

According to the data, announced in the 2017 Income and Expense Study discussed at the RGB’s first public meeting of the year last Thursday, rent went up by 7.6 percent in Community District 6, which includes Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy Park and Murray Hill.

Rent increased in every community district in the city in that time frame, with only three Brooklyn neighborhoods with higher increases than district 6.

Although rent increases are governed by the guidelines set out by the RGB, variations occur because of vacancy allowances, the termination of preferential rents, individual apartment improvements and building-wide improvements (major capital improvements).

The study, which examines Real Property Income and Expense (RPIE) statements from rent stabilized buildings filed with the Department of Finance, also found that net operating income (NOI) for owners grew by 10.8 percent, marking the 11th consecutive year that the NOI has increased. The study does not break down the NOI increases by community district, but the increase in core Manhattan, which is defined as south of West 110th Street and south of East 96th Street, was 7.8 percent.

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Tenants rally for rent rollback before first RGB meeting

Tenants rallied outside 1 Centre Street on Thursday (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rent stabilized tenants geared up for the upcoming Rent Guidelines Board vote at a rally before the board’s first public meeting of the year this past Thursday morning. Encouraged by a recent ruling by the New York Supreme Court, tenant advocates pushed for a rent rollback.

“As Judge Debra James ruled in her courtroom on Tuesday, the RGB must consider tenant affordability, along with landlord expenses, income and profit,” said Anne Cunningham, a tenant of a residential hotel on the Upper West Side who has been coming to RGB-related housings rights protests for more than 30 years. “And when the RGB votes, they must consider a rent rollback for tenants as a fair and reasonable rent adjustment.”

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McMillan planning citywide rent strike

UPDATE: Jimmy McMillan, early today, announced he was calling off the strike in light of a judge’s decision on Tuesday to keep the rent freeze in place.

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Jimmy McMillan is now running for Rosie Mendez’s Council seat.  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, now a Republican City Council candidate, is calling on the tenants of New York City to join him in a rent strike this October.

McMillan, an East Village resident who’s been in and out of court with his own landlord for years, said the plan is inspired by what he’s blasting as conflicting interests in the New York City Housing Court.

“The attorneys that sit on a committee that appoint New York City Housing Court (judges), stand before that same judge against the tenant representing the landlord,” he stated in a press release.

The 70-year-old Vietnam vet also believes this setup has impacted his own case.

According to current information on the New York Courts website, the advisory committee that helps appoint judges to the Housing Part of the Civil Court includes three representatives of the real estate industry, including the chair of the NYC Housing Authority, three members from tenants’ organizations, two members representing civic groups, two bar association members, two public members, one mayoral appointee and the commissioner of the state housing agency, Housing and Community Renewal.

McMillan’s plan to strike, meanwhile, is also aimed at raising awareness of his campaign platform — affordability. His goal is to see rents slashed across the board.

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Rent freeze stays

Tenants protest the lawsuit last September. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, a judge ruled against a landlord group that had sued to undo the rent freeze for over a million stabilized tenants in New York City.

The fight might not be over though since the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents over 25,000 property owners in the city, later tweeted that it would review Judge Debra James’ decision and “seek grounds for appeal.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, cheered the news, and while discussing it on Tuesday, also brought up the mansion tax, saying this would create affordable housing for 25,000 more New Yorkers.

“Everyone who has struggled to pay the rent ― here’s the good news ― the people won and the landlords lost,” de Blasio said.

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Tenants protest landlord lawsuit aimed at undoing rent freeze

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Council Member Dan Garodnick outside the courthouse where arguments were being heard over the Rent Stabilization Association’s lawsuit (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Lawyers for a landlord group were met by an angry crowd of protesters as they arrived in court to argue against a citywide rent freeze Tuesday.

Despite freezing temperatures and snow, the sign-waving group of renters, made up mostly of seniors, led chants that at times called for either a rent freeze or a rollback.

Among their supporters was Council Member Dan Garodnick, who said, “We have seen what happens year after year, even in years when costs went down. Rents only seemed to go in one direction and that was up. As a result, evictions go up. Homelessness goes up. The Rent Guidelines Board acted totally appropriately in making that determination.”

Judge Debra James was hearing arguments from the Rent Stabilization Association, the plaintiff, and those seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, including a coalition of tenant groups, legal service organizations and 18 City Council members.

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Landlord lawsuit over rent freeze delayed

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Back in September, a tenant and civic group-led coalition sought to intervene in a lawsuit that was aimed at blocking the Rent Guidelines Board’s decision in June to issue a rent freeze. The lawsuit had been filed by the Rent Stabilization Association, a group representing 25,000 New York City landlords who own rent regulated properties.

Two months later, while a decision still had not yet been made, the tenant group planned — but then abruptly canceled — a protest on the matter. This was after Supreme Court Justice Debra James, in mid-November, adjourned the case to January 31, 2017.

Harvey Epstein, attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which was one of the groups trying to intervene in the lawsuit, said the judge adjourned after a landlord group also attempted to intervene. This group, he said, is SPONY (Small Property Owners on New York Inc.) But while this means having to wait longer for a decision, Epstein said the delay isn’t a bad thing for tenants.

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800 ST/PCV residents who qualify for SCRIE/DRIE haven’t enrolled

City pushing rent freeze programs on East Side

Last Thursday, Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha and Council Member Dan Garodnick announced that citywide, eligible seniors and disabled tenants aren’t taking advantage of an available rent freeze, especially in Stuyvesant Town and along the East Side of Manhattan. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Last Thursday, Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha and Council Member Dan Garodnick announced that citywide, eligible seniors and disabled tenants aren’t taking advantage of an available rent freeze, especially in Stuyvesant Town and along the East Side of Manhattan. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, the city rolled out what’s it’s calling East Side Rent Freeze Month, a series of events in October aimed at getting eligible New Yorkers signed up for programs that would exempt them from rent hikes, including MCIs (major capital improvements).

The reason for the push was that in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village alone, 800 eligible tenants have yet to sign up for the programs. According to Jacques Jiha, the city’s finance commissioner, the number of eligible people citywide is 80,000, and many of them are East Siders.

“The East Side of Manhattan has the highest number of eligible participants,” said Jiha, as he stood outside Stuyvesant Town’s Community Center with local elected officials and tenants for a press conference. “During the month we’ll sign up as many eligible seniors and people with disabilities as possible.”

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Tenants fight landlord lawsuit to undo rent freeze

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Tenants defend the rent freeze. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A group of tenants from around the city are hoping to intervene in a lawsuit that was filed in July aimed at stopping the rent freeze authorized a month earlier by the Rent Guidelines Board.

That lawsuit was filed by the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization that represents around 25,000 landlords in New York City.

On Tuesday morning, the tenant group announced its intention to fight the litigation at a rally held at Foley Square, near the courthouses. The group, dubbed the Rent Justice Coalition, includes tenant and civic groups from around the city with legal representation by Legal Aid Society, Goddard Riverside and the Urban Justice Center.

Event organizer Larry Wood of Goddard Riverside told the crowd of tenants and activists, “The RSA says the Rent Guidelines Board used criteria they shouldn’t have. The RSA claims tenant affordability shouldn’t have been considered. It’s outrageous to say they’re not supposed to think about tenant hardship.”

The suit had argued that the issue of affordability shouldn’t be handled by the RGB, but by government-sponsored rent relief subsidies.

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