Delsenia Glover, Ellen Davidson and State Senator Brad Hoylman answered questions about the rent laws. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
More than 200 tenants attended a housing forum hosted by State Senator Liz Krueger’s office on September 10 to learn more about the impacts of the rent laws that were passed in June, addressing the repeal of vacancy decontrol, preferential rents and new rules for major capital improvements.
The forum, held at CUNY’s Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue, was also attended by State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, the former Assemblymember for District 74 and currently the Chairman of Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development for the Senate, housing advocate Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors, NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas and Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson.
The local elected officials, experts and advocates at the forum discussed some of the major takeaways from the new rent laws that were passed, specifically regarding how they would affect rent-regulated tenants, and answered questions about housing-related issues.
Visnauskas said that the strengthened rent laws are helping to preserve affordable housing throughout the state by removing loopholes that landlords could exploit to increase rents and push apartments out of rent stabilization.
The fact that the power has shifted drastically in Albany has been missed by no one, in particular landlords, who for many years could rely on the Republican-controlled State Senate to kill any bill deemed too tenant-friendly. While it’s tempting to dismiss the ongoing preening of Albany Democrats as the usual hot air, it isn’t. Good evidence of this is that the property owners of New York City are fighting tooth and nail to defend the status quo.
To keep major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases, which are permanently tacked onto a tenant’s rent, they’ve sought cooperation from contractors to argue that owners will stop improving their buildings, which will hurt middle class people who need the jobs. It’s a pathetic argument, however, because if a landlord allows his or her property to deteriorate, just because they can no longer get reimbursed for the project (and earn a profit on top of that) then he or she is nothing but a slumlord. And not deserving of anyone’s pity. Certainly not any more than the renters who are made to pay in perpetuity to improve properties they don’t own.
The system that allows MCIs and IAIs has been abused for many years. A story in this week’s issue of Town & Village demonstrates just how easy it is for someone in charge of renovations to wildly inflate costs of IAIs for the purpose of deregulating units. All they have to do is be willing to fill out credible looking paperwork, send it to a housing agency too under-resourced to verify the information and employ people who don’t mind getting paid more than a renovation should actually cost. This must end.
Assembly members at a hearing on rent regulations (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
A hearing on Thursday about the rent regulations that are sunsetting this June in Albany at times got heated with a speaker representing the real estate industry being accused of racism by the crowd and even a couple of Assembly members.
After a few New York City tenant leaders and advocates spoke favorably about a package of tenant-friendly bills aimed at, among other things, ending vacancy decontrol and major capital improvement rent increases, Joseph Strasburg, the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, told the Assembly housing committee members not to “NYCHA-tize the private sector.”
The Rent Stabilization Association represents roughly 25,000 New York City landlords.
In response to his comment, a couple of audience members shouted out “Racist!”
Strasburg disagreed, but one black Assembly member, Latrice Walker, responded that as someone who had grown up in a NYCHA development, only to later lose that apartment and become homeless, she didn’t appreciate his comment.
This was echoed by another black Assembly member, Walter Mosley, who said, “I think the term used with regards to NYCHA, it’s not up to the person who doesn’t know what racism is to determine what racism is. To say it is disrespectful to the members here who are of color as well as those who live in NYCHA, who are a number of my constituents.”
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.”
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.”
Throughout my entire 28-year tenure in the State Assembly, the State Senate was controlled by the Republican Majority with their leadership mostly based in conservative rural or suburban regions of New York.
The Republicans are ideologically closer to big business, such as the real estate industry, than with consumers or tenants. I don’t say that as a value judgement, but rather as a political fact.
Of course, the millions of dollars from those business groups and corporations that roll into the Senate Republican campaign coffers regularly help.
During my time in the Assembly representing the East Side of Manhattan, Roy Goodman was my counterpart in the Senate for almost all those years. We worked closely together to press for needed tenant protections and fair housing laws. But try as he might, Roy was frequently stymied by his Republican leadership. Bills passed in the Assembly never saw the light of day in the Senate.
(Pictured after returning from Albany, left to right) Tom Kuhn, Peter Sullivan, Judy Miller (back row), Mary Garvey, Sherryl Kirschenbaum, Michael Madonia (back row), Susan Steinberg, Patrice Michaels, Anne Greenberg, Alex Lee, Regina Shane and Chandra Patel. (Photo by Harvey Epstein)
By Susan Steinberg President, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association
Here we go again. New York State’s rent laws expire in June 2019 and tenant groups are already taking action to renew and strengthen them.
The 2019 date was deliberately set at the time of the 2015 rent law renewal so it would occur in a non-election year, saving incumbents from the danger of losing their seats as a result of a strong, forceful tenant lobby. 2018 is, of course, an election year which means that now is the time to start putting the pressure on state legislators who want tenant support for their election or re-election runs. Since bills to strengthen rent laws can be passed any time prior to the June 2019 expiration, the challenge is to get them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. They are now languishing in the Senate’s Housing Committee. (The State Assembly has already passed two bills and will easily pass a third but the Senate has yet to act.)
What is the tenants’ game plan? We are pushing for passage of three bills to strengthen regulations by repealing two laws most responsible for the loss of rent-regulated units — vacancy deregulation and vacancy bonus — and for closing the preferential rent loophole. Vacancy decontrol is responsible for the loss of 250,000 rent-regulated units over the past decade; the vacancy bonus gives landlords a 20 percent rent increase each time an apartment turns over; preferential rents are a discount from the legal rent that can be taken away at lease renewal leading to a sudden increase of hundreds of dollars.
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.
State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On Sunday night, when the New York State budget was passed by the Senate, landlords won an extension of the 421 tax break for new developments while tenants lost some leverage in the ongoing effort to renew and strengthen the rent laws.
The combined budget bills had totaled nearly 2,000 pages, as noted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last week. He’d voted no as a protest to being expected to review a Bible-sized stack in a matter of hours.
However, with the voting now over in the Senate as well as the Assembly, Hoylman gave Town & Village a recap.
The 421a tax break for developers, which was included in the budget, will no longer sunset at the same time as the rent negotiations. The timeline had previously been seen by tenants as an opportunity to bargain for stronger rent laws.
“The fact that the 421a real estate tax exemption was negotiated behind closed doors is scandalous,” said Hoylman, “but what is also extremely scandalous is that it was not linked to renewal of the rent laws. Albany made a colossal mistake in de-coupling the renewal of 421a with rent laws. That was a major leverage point.”
Additionally, ethics reforms, including the closure of the LLC Loophole (which allows donors to give nearly limitless campaign cash to politicians through LLCs), were not included.
“There was no mention of ethics reform in any part of the budget,” said Hoylman, “which is extremely disappointing. Not an iota. They blocked the LLC Loophole (closure), they blocked measures to limit outside income. Once again the Senate majority refused to take action. The budget process itself was dysfunctional.”
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.
Bayard Rustin once wrote, “We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.”
I can’t think of a more angelic cause than protecting people’s homes. So last Wednesday, I was one of 55 troublemakers, including eleven elected officials, arrested for civil disobedience outside of Governor Cuomo’s office in Albany protesting Albany’s inaction on strengthening the rent laws this session.
As 25,000 of our Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village neighbors know all too well, New York’s rent laws will expire next week – midnight on June 15. The issue isn’t if the rent laws will be renewed, however. It’s practically a given they will be. The real question is whether protections for rent-regulated tenants will continue to be eroded by the status quo that favors landlords at the expense of tenants.
Tenant activists have put it bluntly: a straightforward extension of the rent laws is an unmitigated disaster for tenants and New York’s affordable housing stock. I agree. The reason is because currently landlords can take advantage of a raft of anti-tenant provisions in the law to flip regulated apartments to market units, making the rent out of reach for most New Yorkers.
Vacancy bonuses allow landlords to hike rents by 20 percent when an apartment becomes available for a new tenant, creating an incentive to push old tenants out.
They use so-called preferential rents to bait prospective tenants into a deceptive sense of safety with a single year of rent below the legal maximum allowed, and then shock them with huge rent increases based on that legal maximum when their leases come up for renewal.
And they make tenants pay extra for major capital improvements (MCIs) — often after the cost of the improvement has been recouped. The result is that over the last two decades, New York has lost 400,000 rent-regulated apartments. Tenants quite literally cannot afford to lose any more.
By Susan Steinberg, Board Chair, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association
Sometimes in the life of our community, I feel like a barker at a carnival. Two of those times are upon us: a June 8 public hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board and a June 9 major tenant rally in Albany to demand stronger rent laws.
I’m not selling you a ticket to a freak show where your pocket may be picked once you’re inside. On the other hand, thinking about it, both Albany and the RGB are freak shows, and the real estate industry does pick your pocket.
The June 8 RGB public hearing is the one opportunity tenants have to tell their stories about why rents should be rolled back or frozen. We need tenants to counteract the piteous cries of the landlords about how they can’t cover their costs (while ignoring their ever-increasing profits). Tenants need to let the RGB know that they can’t continue to be burdened to the point of spending 50 percent of their income on rent.
Getting on a bus to Albany is critical because rent laws expire on June 15 – but we need them strengthened, not just renewed. Everyone living in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village stands to benefit from stronger rent laws. Without the laws having more teeth, the number of regulated units will dwindle to the point where tenants have no political clout, and we can all look forward to rents that are totally beyond our pocketbooks.
Experience has shown us that masses of tenants being seen and making their voices heard does have a chilling effect on the forces of darkness. That’s why showing up in numbers is important.
So here I go “barking.”
Who’s coming to the June 8 RGB hearing? Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets). The hearing will be held 2-6 p.m. Pre-register to testify either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (212-385-2934), or register in person at the start of the hearing. Keep your spoken remarks to three minutes. You may submit your views in writing by addressing them to the chair or any board member, c/o NYC Rent Guidelines Board, 51 Chambers St., Suite 202, New York, NY 10007 or by email: email@example.com.
Who’s coming with me to Albany on June 9? The TA has hired three buses. Sign up now, while your seat is still available. Internet: http://stpcvta.org/albany2015. For neighbors without Internet access, call (917) 338-7860.
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.
Following the news that last week that Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the Assembly, is being investigated for mysterious payments received for his non-legislative work as an attorney, what effect this may have, if any, on tenants, remains to be seen. Silver and the Democrat-led Assembly have been supporters of the rent laws, which are up for renewal this year.
Last Monday, the New York Times reported how Silver is being investigated by federal authorities over substantial payments he received from a small law firm, Goldberg & Iryami that seeks tax reductions for different properties in the city. The investigation over the payments, made over a period of a decade, is to determine precisely what kind of work Silver, a personal injury attorney, did since he isn’t known to have experience in challenging real estate tax assessments, the Times said. The payments weren’t listed on his annual financial disclosure forms. The investigation began out of work done by the governor’s now defunct Moreland Commission.
A spokesperson for Silver did not respond to a request for comment from Town & Village on the investigation. There was also no response to our question of what, if anything, the speaker plans to do to strengthen the rent stabilization laws that are up for renewal this June.
Meanwhile, Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC (Political Action Committee), said he thinks it’s too soon to predict if an investigation of Silver could weaken the position of Assembly Democrats.
“It’s hard to say; Shelly’s been investigated before many times,” said McKee.
Silver, who made it through a coup attempt in 2000, was also more recently under scrutiny for authorizing hush money payments to staffers of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who said he sexually harassed them.
“I have no reason to believe he won’t be elected speaker (again). At the moment, this is simply newspaper stories. If something major comes out of this investigation, if he’s indicted, that’s another matter.” (On Wednesday morning, Silver was re-elected as speaker.)
Tenants pack the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School for the Tenants Association meeting on Saturday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buchel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While the future of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village remains as uncertain as ever, at a meeting held on Saturday, tenants got walked through what some of the legalese concerning the foreclosure that had been planned for earlier this year and then canceled means for the community.
This was one of the topics covered at the meeting, which was held by the ST-PCV Tenants Association and attended by around 500 residents who packed the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School.
Council Member Dan Garodnick discussed how when the foreclosure was canceled, the deed of property was transferred to the senior level of the trust. He said that this means the bondholders now own the property but CWCapital continues to represent their interests. He noted that the agreement put in place means that CWCapital could represent the bondholders for a term of three years, which is renewable for a second three-year term. He added that they originally acquired the property for $3 billion and are open to the possibility of conversion but only if they get back the $4.7 billion they are owed.
When a resident asked later in the meeting why the amount had increased so much, Garodnick noted that it was due to interest and fees.
“A whole list of junk,” he said. “‘Special servicing fees,’ that’s what they claim to be owed.”
Garodnick also addressed a question from a resident about CWCapital’s parent company, Fortress. While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have pledged to not approve of any deal that reduced affordable housing, Garodnick noted that it was possible to cut Fannie and Freddie out of the process if CWCapital hands the property over to Fortress, although he noted that this scenario is unlikely.
State Senator Brad Hoylman speaks to the crowd, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick listen. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
Along with Garodnick, other local elected officials were in attendance to address the TA’s conversion effort, the state of affordable housing and other topics.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh were also at the meeting and were joined later in the afternoon by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Stringer assured the crowd his office is committed to preserving affordable housing, especially given the recent Democratic losses in Albany.
“Our office is ready to partner with whatever plan this Tenants Association puts forward,” he said. “Even the most important and ambitious housing plan can’t make up the loss if Stuyvesant Towns and Peter Cooper Villages of the world are lost.”
Stringer added that it was his son’s third birthday, eliciting cheers from the crowd. But when State Senator Brad Hoylman, who spoke next, made sure everyone was aware that it was also Governor Cuomo’s birthday, the room was silent.
“It’s just a fact. We’re gonna need him,” Hoylman said apologetically among laughs from the crowd after the negative reaction.
Holyman then discussed the Democrats’ current fate in Albany.
“Unfortunately it’s not very different from what you see out the window: cold, dreary and windy,” he remarked.
Hoylman blamed poor voter turnout in the recent midterm elections for Democratic losses in the state. With the rent laws up for renewal next year, he said that the Republicans’ new operational majority will make protecting tenants more difficult.
“Some Republicans live closer to Cleveland than to Manhattan,” he said. “But physically making yourself known makes a difference. We have numbers on our side and a lot of smart people on our side.”
He added that legislation protecting tenants did get passed in 2011 when Republicans also had a majority so he encouraged residents to remain optimistic.
TA attorney Tim Collins also spoke to address specific questions and concerns about rent and MCIs.
Collins discussed rent and MCI concerns at the beginning of the meeting. Residents of 431 East 20th Street in Peter Cooper Village said that they had received MCIs for façade work at the end of November and residents from 601 East 20th Street and 2 Peter Cooper Road also received docket letters from DHCR about MCIs for façade work.
“How is it restoration and improvement?” one tenant asked, prompting laughter from neighbors. Collins agreed with the assessment, noting, “It’s not an improvement, it’s a repair.”
A notice from the TA that was released on Monday said that more buildings will likely be hit with the MCI for façade work. The statement encouraged residents to keep the docket letters they receive about MCIs from DHCR and send copies to the TA so it can keep track of which buildings have received them and help tenants fight the rent increases.
Another issue discussed was apartment inspections with tenants skeptical that management only needs to give a day’s notice to come in for inspections. However, Collins confirmed that this is correct. If management needs to get into an apartment to do any work or make repairs, the tenants need to be informed a week in advance but if they need to get in just for inspections, they only need to inform tenants 24 hours before.
Collins also addressed late fees that some tenants have been charged with, including tenants who have been charged but said they don’t have a provision for late fees in their lease.
“If you have been charged a late fee, talk to management because there is no legal recourse for the fee,” he said, adding that tenants with such a provision who have been charged more than five percent should be getting a refund. He noted that there is also some leniency for tenants who are late on their rent the first time and he recommended talking to management about the fee.
TA chair Susan Steinberg noted that the TA will be meeting with management on December 16 and would be able to address questions from residents raised at the meeting, including the lack of action from public safety concerning speeding electronic bikes, disruptive NYU students and residents who are in non-compliance with the floor covering rules.