June 15 is the day New York’s rent laws expire, and although the now-Democrat controlled Assembly and State Senate have promised to stregnthen them, Albany is still Albany and this means anything can happen before then.
To ensure that all of the legislature’s bills aimed at protecting tenants are passed, the Met Council on Housing recommends calling the governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 and asking that they be kept intact. Additionally, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is advising tenants to do the same and also call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Heastie’s Albany office can be reached at (518) 455-3791 and the district office can be reached at (718) 654-6539. Stewart-Cousins can be reached at (518) 455-2585 (Albany) and (914) 423-4031 (district).
The real estate industry has always given generously to Albany’s elected officials, including Cuomo, but tenants can still have power in numbers. Not a political kind of person? You don’t have to be. Just think of a time your life was personally impacted in some way by vacancy decontrol, MCIs, IAIs, vacancy bonuses, preferential rents or just plain unadulterated greed. (See? It’s easy.) And then let those elected officials know this price gouging spree has gone on long enough.
Tenants rally outside the governor’s midtown office in support of the proposed rent laws on Wednesday. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)
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
With the rent laws that protect more than 2 million tenants set to expire on June 15 this year, and the inadequacies and loopholes in the current laws all too apparent, the Assembly’s Democratic Majority, led by Speaker Heastie, fought resolutely to renew and strengthen these vital protections, in negotiations with Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo.
In taking up this cause, we were joined by a diverse coalition, including thousands of my constituents and other New Yorkers who took the time to call and write their elected officials, attend rallies, and travel to Albany to make sure their voices were heard; advocacy organizations like the Alliance for Tenant Power, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, Tenants and Neighbors, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, Good Old Lower East Side, and the Cooper Square Committee; and many elected officials, including Senators Squadron, Hoylman, and Krueger whose districts overlap with my Assembly district.
While it was critical that the laws be extended, and there are minor improvements in the extension passed last night, I am profoundly disappointed that notwithstanding all of our efforts, the bill fails to provide anything close to the protections we need to maintain stable, affordable communities. I voted against it.
To begin to understand the machination of Albany politics especially with the state legislature, a basic understanding of chess is necessary. For they are based on the very same principles.
Chess is a game of strategy. Unlike other games, the moves made in chess are often times disguised and not always what they appear to be. First of all, in chess each player starts with 16 pieces. The pieces are of different values and are capable of making different moves across the 64 squared checkerboard. The goal in chess is to navigate across the board using your pieces in different ways to ultimately capture the opposing player’s “King.” Each player knows that in spite of starting out with 16 pieces they will lose some pieces along the way and even sacrifice some pieces in order to position themselves for victory.
To some extent that explains why Senator John Flanagan, the newly minted Senate (Republican) Majority Leader from Long Island, is so interested in New York City rent regulations. There are many more important local issues to Senator Flanagan’s constituents and fellow legislators from Nassau, Suffolk or upstate districts. But Flanagan is deftly holding on to the rent regulation issue near and dear to virtually every city legislator in the hopes of trading it or sacrificing it for something more important to his constituents and colleagues in the Senate. Each issue is like a chess piece. Each has a relative importance and each has a value if it is to be given up for something else.
No issue stands alone in Albany. Each issue is part of the bigger picture of what can be gained or lost in negotiations. This is probably also true of New York City mayoral control of the public schools which like New York City rent regulations must be renewed. It is very important to New York City politicians. But Flanagan and his mostly suburban and rural colleagues are holding on to both of those issues like a dog and its favorite bone.
Senator Flanagan cares much more about upstate property taxes and even some changes to the state’s restrictive gun laws (although that may now be a nonstarter following yet another gun tragedy, this time in a church in South Carolina). Flanagan also cares about upstate economic revitalization issues and even tax cuts to underwrite private and parochial school costs for parents who send their children to those schools or individuals who donate funds to those schools.
So the leaders in the Democratic Assembly led by Speaker Carl Heastie and the Senate leaders will move those issues along the checkerboard of negotiations knowing that to achieve their ultimate goals they will sacrifice some of those less important issue to gain more important issues for each of them. As for the governor, He will try to broker a deal that satisfies his political priorities by cobbling together issues that are of importance to the Assembly and the Senate that satisfies his political needs. In this case the governor is using the rent
regulation issue as leverage to procure approval from the Assembly on issues that it is less interested in, but ones that the governor has a great interest.
This is the traditional horse trading that has always been part of the Albany legislative culture of getting things done. But this gamesmanship causes great anxiety to ordinary citizens who feel like pawns in the game, especially one million New York City tenants.
Rent regulations and protections against eviction or huge increases in rents is a matter of life and death for many apartment dwellers.
So my advice to the leadership of Albany is to get this done this week and allow the people of the State of New York to proceed with their lives without the uncertainty and intrigue of Albany machinations.
Really, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Flanagan… this is not a game!
Assembly Member Carl Heastie, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (Photo via Governor Andrew Cuomo Flickr)
By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday afternoon, the rent regulations, over a week after their expiration, were discussed in what was called “the framework of an agreement” that was immediately blasted by tenant advocates for not repealing vacancy decontrol or reforming preferential rents. The plan was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in an Albany press conference.
The plan, which, as of Town & Village’s press time, was still being discussed by both legislative houses in conference, calls for a four-year extension of the rent laws, reforming major capital improvements (MCIs) so that tenants’ payments are lower though they will still have to be paid in perpetuity. Other changes include increasing penalties on landlords who harass tenants and raising the threshold at which an apartment can be subject to vacancy deregulation. Additionally, according to a press release put out by Cuomo, the state housing agency’s Tenants Protection Unit will be put into statute and vacancy bonuses and will be limited for tenants paying preferential rent, although how much or in what way it would be limited wasn’t explained. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for clarification by Town & Village’s deadline.
Stuyvesant Town tenant leaders participated in a rally for stronger rent laws outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office last Wednesday. (Photo by Rebecca Dumais)
By Sabina Mollot
Last Wednesday, a group of residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, including leaders from the ST-PCV Tenants Association, joined a rally for stronger rent laws in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office.
The Tenants Association demonstrators carried signs that read “Strengthen the rent laws—Do not feed vultures,” complete with a graphic of a vulture hovering over Stuy Town. The graphic was designed by TA member John Sicoransa and another version of the sign read, “Landlords feed on middle class renters.”
TA Chair Susan Steinberg noted the turnout among neighbors was a high as was the response to a recent effort, highlighted in this newspaper, to get tenants to write letters to key Albany legislators. During a recent trip to the Post Office, Steinberg learned at around 500 letters had been addressed to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and local Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
A package slip had been left in the TA’s mailbox and when Steinberg went out to collect said package, a postal worker brought out the letters in two large trays. Upon seeing the amount of mail, “I almost fainted,” said Steinberg.
“So,” she added, “we are very happy people are paying attention, and we’re going to send them off in large batches.”
The TA is also participating in a march for stronger rent laws to be held on Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m. The event will begin with a rally at Foley Square (corner of Centre Street and Worth Street) followed by a march across Brooklyn Bridge to Cadman Plaza.
Stuyvesant Town resident Marina Metalios (right) with neighbor Arlene Dabreo pictured at an anti-Airbnb rally earlier this year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Marina Metalios
Our rent laws expire on June 15, 2015. At the last ST/PCV Building Leader meeting in February, we discussed what is at stake. Guest speaker Michael McKee (treasurer, Tenants PAC) explained that if we cannot reduce the phase-out of protections this year it may be too late to do so at the next renewal. The real estate lobby is quite content on a “straight extender” this June because the rent laws as currently written are doing exactly what the real estate lobby scripted.
The combo in the current laws of legal rent increases from individual apartment improvements and MCIs and vacancy destabilization are doing yeoman’s work for the real estate lobby. Simply put: Our current laws contain the seeds of their own destruction. Consider this proof: In our last renewal in 2011 the tenant movement wanted a three-year extender only (to get a renewal in the politically advantageous election year of 2014).
But the real estate lobby wanted a 14-year extender, to 2025! A 14-year extender would have rewarded the real estate lobby richly with minimal exertion. During this time the landlords would have waited patiently, their deregulation plans successfully on auto-pilot. By 2025, so few units would have remained rent-protected that the lobby would have won just by waiting it out. If not “won” outright they would be close enough to order champagne.
Strengthening our rental protections is detailed in the nine-point “Tenant Legislative Platform” of the Real Rent Reform (R3) Campaign and Alliance for Tenant Power (ATP). For more information visit the website.
Of them, the first and #1 most important demand is to repeal vacancy destabilization. (Of the others, the ones which are compelling to our community are repealing the automatic 20 percent vacancy bonus, making MCIs temporary, making preferential rents the base for a rent increase and tightening individual apartment improvement increase calculations.)
You may say this list is familiar. Yes, we still need to expand tenant protections, despite the 2011 renewal. I say “despite” because the 2011 renewal was technically the first since the 80s (approximately) during which the rent laws were not shrunk further. Cuomo made a huge gigantic broo-ha-ha deal about his (puny) expansions to our tenant protections in 2011. He strutted about the improvements he engineered that year. But let them be cautionary: the 2011 expansions to the rent laws are almost imperceptible and Cuomo prodigiously fund-raised from real estate during both his elections. In his 2014 re-election he raised more money from landlords than even the Senate Republicans and seven of his 10 biggest donors were landlords or developers.