Albany passes strongest rent regulations ever

Tenants in Albany on Friday (Photos courtesy of Housing Justice for All)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, the governor signed the most tenant-friendly package of rent regulations the state has ever seen, including the repeal of vacancy and high-income deregulation, the end of vacancy bonuses and much stricter limitations on major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases.

As for what this means for tenants, most notably there will be adjustments to stabilized tenants’ rent, said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. MCIs, which previously could be no higher than six percent of a tenant’s rent, will now be no higher than two percent. They will also be eliminated after 30 years instead of being paid in perpetuity. If tenants have signed a lease with a preferential rent, that amount, when the lease is renewed, will now only be allowed to climb as high as the rent increase voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board. Previously it could have gone as high as the maximum legal rent (often a difference of hundreds of dollars).

Additionally, while this doesn’t impact current tenants, tenants moving into an apartment won’t have nearly as much to pay in IAIs, which will now be limited to $15,000 each, and only three units will be eligible over a 15-year period. The increase would also last 30 years instead of remaining permanent. Tenant blacklists will also disappear and there will also be more protections available for tenants fighting an eviction. Additionally, any conversions to co-ops or condos must be non-eviction plans. Tenants who want to file overcharge complaints will now have longer to do so, six years instead of four.

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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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Residents of Kips Bay NYCHA building worried about privatization

Tenants at 344 East 28th Street say there’s been no communication from NYCHA about the agency’s plans. (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents of the New York City Housing Authority development at 344 East 28th Street are demanding transparency after the city agency announced that a new program would be implemented for tenants in the building to privatize ownership.

NYCHA hosted a meeting at Bellevue Hospital last week to give tenants information about the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) Unfunded Units program but tenants said prior to the meeting that they weren’t given any information about the program previously or been allowed to give any input about whether or not they want to join.

The program is part of a push by NYCHA to increase revenue for repairs in developments throughout the city that have long been neglected. The plan involves shifting management of NYCHA complexes to private developers through PACT as well as the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).

A flyer distributed to residents claims that the program will provide funding for necessary repairs, upgrades and renovations, ensure affordability and protect tenant rights.

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Letters to the editor, Feb. 14

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

The time-honored tradition of greed

The average rent in Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village is now higher than the average rent in the rest of Manhattan. This is pretty worrisome trend. Far from being a middle-class bastion, it is now a high-rent complex.

Greedy landlords contributed. Metropolitan Life had enormous help from city to clear 80 acres in the Gas House District and evict over 13,000 working class people and their families from their homes. They said it was a slum clearance project — but there were three churches, three schools and countless mom and pop stores all there. The landlord was given enormous tax breaks.

When Mike Bloomberg was asked to intervene when Met Life said they wanted to cash in their chips in a $5.4 billion payday, Bloomberg adapted a laissez-faire attitude and said it was a “private transaction.” He deliberately turned a blind eye.

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Council approves Waterside affordability deal

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Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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Affordable housing and L train woes top concerns at East Side town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions from audience members at a town hall co-hosted by Council Member Keith Powers at Hunter College. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The L train shutdown and the lack of local affordable housing were among the main concerns of East Side residents who packed a town hall hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Keith Powers last Wednesday evening. The mayor, along with numerous representatives from city agencies as well as Powers and other local elected officials, answered questions from more than 300 advocates and community residents during the event at Hunter College.

Stuyvesant Town resident and former ST/PCV Tenants Association president Al Doyle got in the first question of the night, asking the mayor if he would actively support a return to rent stabilization of all apartments that had been deregulated due to vacancy decontrol.

The mayor admitted that he couldn’t necessarily commit to that, at least at this point, despite wanting to.

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Stringer releases affordable housing plan

Comptroller Scott Stringer, pictured at a town hall earlier this month (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an affordable housing plan at the end of last month targeting middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for affordable housing under the city’s current plan, proposing to fund it by eliminating advantages for all-cash home buyers.

The new tax model proposed in Stringer’s plan would eliminate the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT). When buyers purchase a home in New York City or elsewhere in the state, the Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) is imposed and is based on the price paid, but only those who borrow to purchase their home or who refinance to pay for the home pay the MRT, which often means they end up paying twice as much in taxes as all-cash buyers.

Stringer’s plan would eliminate the MRT entirely and would treat all transactions equally, regardless of how a home is purchased. A report from Stringer’s office that the plan is based on predicts that the tax proposed in the plan would save middle-class New Yorkers more than $5,700 on a purchase or refinancing, and would raise up to $400 million annually.

“Paying all cash means that you pay less,” Stringer said. “There’s a penalty you pay for being middle class, but under our plan, all home purchases would be taxed the same. If we keep the rate low, we can make ownership more affordable for the middle class. This is good policy and would raise enough to fully fund our plan.”

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New pols promise stronger rent regulations

Tenants carry signs at a rally in front of City Hall. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Since the flipping of the State Senate last month, local Democrat elected officials have been crowing that 2019 will be the year of the tenant.

That point was hammered home on Monday when about 70 tenant activists and about a dozen members of the State Senate and Assembly held a rally in front of City Hall on the laws that regulate rents for about 2.5 million New Yorkers. On June 15, the rent regulations will expire in Albany, but with many new members-elect of the State Senate having campaigned on the issue of affordable housing, there is a better chance than ever before that they’ll make good on those promises.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who got to witness an embarrassing coup in her chamber a previous time the Democrats won the majority, said this time it will be different.

“This is a statewide cry that’s been building louder and louder,” she said about the demands for more affordable housing. “It was this issue that every single senator downstate ran on and now it’s a statewide issue. Now housing is unaffordable in many areas in the state, not just the city.”

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Tenants talk strategy at town hall

Sheila Garcia of CASA and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With Democrats having taken the State Senate last month, local elected officials and tenant advocates held a town hall last week, essentially to rally the troops for what will still be a battle to pass tenant-friendly legislation next year.

More than 200 people attended the event hosted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last Thursday in the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Aaron Carr of the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors and Sheila Garcia of Communities for Safe Apartments (CASA) joined Hoylman for the discussion on vacancy decontrol, the LLC loophole and the possibility of strengthening the rent laws now that the State Senate has gone blue.

Hoylman said that in addition to vacancy decontrol, another policy that the State Senate should focus on is the LLC loophole.

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Homeless encampments are on the rise in New York, study says

A homeless person sleeps at the corner of First Avenue and 14th Street (pictured in 2017). (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As affordable housing continues to disappear in New York City, homeless encampments on the street are on the rise, one study is showing.

RealtyHop, a house and condo sales listings website, has released a report that tracked encampments throughout the city in each neighborhood based on 311 data and the most recent annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Based on the stats, in total, 5,120 encampment complaints were reported from October 2017 to September 2018, 11 percent more than the previous year. The results also show that encampments are mostly a Manhattan problem, with Midtown-Midtown South having it worse than any other neighborhood in the borough. That said, the problem does seem to be on the decline in that area with 402 complaints, which, while extreme, is 201 fewer (half the number) than what was reported in 2017. Another homeless hotspot is the West Village, with 275 complaints in 2017 and 260 reported in 2018 as of October 31. The numbers get lower as neighborhoods get farther away from the city center.

The study had a formula that “de-dupes” or ignores duplicate complaints (more than one from one address on the same day).

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ST/PCV apartment lottery reopening

ST buildings

By Sabina Mollot

The last time the Stuyvesant Town apartment lottery opened was in January, with slots only being made available for applicants in the upper tier of income levels, meaning those who earn a maximum of 165 percent of the area median income. As part of owner Blackstone’s deal with the city in 2015, as apartments have become available in the complex, half become market rate while the other half become available to lottery tenants. Of the lottery apartments, 90 percent of them go to tenants earning up to 165 percent of the AMI, the other 10 percent going to those earning a maximum of 80 percent of the AMI.

However, the lottery is once again reopening, and this time, applicants in both income tiers are eligible to apply for apartments, which are available in a variety of sizes in Stuy Town as well as Peter Cooper Village. The deadline to apply is October 11 and applications can be done online at stuytownlottery.com. To request an application by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Wait List, Peter Stuyvesant Station, P.O. Box 1287, New York, NY, 10009.

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Waterside Plaza residents retiring next year could benefit from affordability plan

Waterside residents learn more about the affordability agreement at a Community Board 6 meeting on Monday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Waterside Plaza tenants might want to consider early retirement to take full advantage of the affordability deal brokered between owner Richard Ravitch and the city.

Representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Waterside Plaza residents at a recent Community Board 6 meeting that only tenants who have retired by 2019 will be eligible to have their rent reset as part of the deal that was announced earlier this month.

Dozens of residents, including Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal and property manager Peter Davis, were at the Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting on Monday to learn additional details about the plan.

A number of residents at the meeting expressed concern about how much they would benefit through the plan, saying that they were eight to 10 years away from retirement and would ideally like to stay at Waterside Plaza for the foreseeable future but wanted to be eligible for a rent reduction.

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Affordability deal proposed for Waterside Plaza

Sept12 Waterside

Waterside Plaza

By Sabina Mollot

The owner of Waterside Plaza, Richard Ravitch, has entered into a tentative deal with the city to help preserve affordability at the complex in 325 apartments occupied by “settling tenants.”

Those tenants had entered into an agreement with the owner after the property left the affordable Mitchell-Lama program at the turn of the millennium to pay a fixed increase each year, which is currently 4.25 percent. In those apartments, about 30 percent of Waterside’s housing stock, the majority of their occupants are seniors.

Under the agreement, which still must go through a ULURP process and get the approval of Community Board 6, the borough president and the City Council, tenants in those 325 apartments will all see some sort of rent relief.

For tenants earning under 165 percent of the area median income and paying over 30 percent of their household incomes in rent — effectively making them rent-burdened — their rents will become 30 percent of whatever their incomes are. Currently, 165 percent of the AMI is $120,615 for one person, $154,935 for a family of three and $185,995 for a family of five.

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Teachout: More tenant protection needed against predatory equity

July19 teachout cropped

Zephyr Teachout discusses her platform in front of a Jared-Kushner-owned building. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout has announced specific tenant-friendly objectives she would implement in the office if elected in response to reports that 19 tenants are suing Jared Kushner’s real estate company for pushing them out of their rent stabilized apartments.

Teachout’s agenda, which she announced on Monday in front of the Kushner-owned building in Williamsburg whose tenants have filed the lawsuit, includes creating an ombudsman position that would be responsible for engagement with tenant groups and organizers to respond to complaints and increasing criminal prosecutions in the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, a division of the AG’s office that investigates and prosecutes cases involving bank fraud, deceptive lending practices, tenant harassment and other real estate-related crimes.

“These crimes are committed every day by real estate companies in New York,” she said. “If we really want to change their behavior, we have to go after them criminally and not just civilly.”

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