Tenants react to the board voting down a rent freeze (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The possibility of a rent freeze was quashed last Thursday at the Rent Guidelines Board’s preliminary vote, held at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. As is the case in most previous years, the proposal that ultimately passed was from the board’s chair, Kathleen Roberts, with ranges from 0.75 to 2.75 percent increases for one-year leases and 1.75 to 3.75 percent increases for two-year leases for rent-stabilized tenants.
Tenant representatives Sheila Garcia and newly-appointed Leah Goodridge offered a proposal that would have included a rent freeze for one-year and two-year lease renewals but the chair, the board’s four public members and the two owner members voted against the measure.
The owner representatives attempted to offer their own proposal but were shouted down by tenants who started chanting and yelling once the proposal for a rent freeze failed. Roberts read her proposal and held a vote amidst the yelling and the board walked off the stage with most tenants in the crowd unaware that anything had been decided. The chair’s proposal passed in a vote of five to four, with the owner and tenant representatives voting against the measure and the public members and chair voting for it.
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.”
On the heels of tenants’ bargaining power getting stripped away in Albany through the renewal of 421a and the de-coupling of the tax break’s expiration date with that of the rent regulations, the Rent Guidelines Board made it clear that it’s not considering the rent rollback tenants have asked for or even another freeze.
Additionally, the city’s stabilized landlords, represented by the group Rent Stabilization Association, feel they need a win after losing a lawsuit in March charging that last year’s rent freeze wasn’t valid.
So despite this being an election year, in which a pro-tenant mayor is hoping to get reelected, there probably won’t be another freeze. The rent increase ranges voted on Tuesday night, 1-3 percent for a one-year lease, 2-4 percent for a two-year lease, are just preliminary, but there’s also no reason to believe there could still be a freeze without bringing new, significant evidence to light that could change the board members’ minds.
Landlords have made the argument that it costs big bucks to run buildings properly, even more so in the past year, and tenants did already get two years of a freeze if they signed a one-year lease. A small business owner (as the RSA insists most landlords are) who can’t make ends meet because the rent is too damn low does sound like a legit argument indeed.
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.”
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.
By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Let me state at the outset that I like Joseph Strasberg a lot. I have known him for something like 40 years. He used to live in Stuyvesant Town when I did. He is smart and he is savvy, and an all-around good guy. So who is Joseph Strasberg?
Joe is the long-time president of the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA). Their slogan is “we house New York.” They represent hundreds of rent regulated building owners throughout New York City. Much of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village remain under the Rent Stabilization law. As such, thousands of tenants in our community are subject to the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) annual determination regarding rent renewal amounts for leases expiring in any given year.
For the past two years those increases have been small, just about two percent for a two-year lease and zero percent for a one-year lease renewal. In essence for tenants who have opted for one-year lease renewals their rent has been frozen for the past two years. Good news for tenants, but is this unfair to owners? Well Strasberg and the RSA say “for sure!” In fact, as was reported in the T&V, they went to court to petition a judge to overturn the RGB’s freezing of rents. They argued it was arbitrary and capricious and challenged the independence of the board from the political influence of the mayor. Strasberg averred in his court filings that the current mayor had “corrupted” the process. Strasberg and the RSA lost.
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.
While landlords in the city of New York were understandably upset about the Rent Guidelines Board issuing its second rent freeze in a row last year, the fact that an organization has sued the board on their behalf is laughable. Or it might be if it weren’t so sad.
As Town & Village reported last week, the landlord group Rent Stabilization Association has claimed that the board erred by taking into account what tenants could afford to pay as opposed to only what landlords’ operating costs and conditions were. But that completely one-side argument makes no sense. Of course tenants’ overall financial state matters. When you charge a price for a service that’s also one of life’s basic necessities, if that price is beyond what anyone can actually reasonably afford then that’s called price gouging. And this kind of gouging has been going on in New York City, openly and shamelessly, for far too long. The RGB finally recognized this and made its decision accordingly.
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.
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.
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.
The Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Christian Bautista
The city’s biggest landlord organization is looking to build a winning streak in the courts as it sues the Rent Guidelines Board over its decision to enact a rent freeze.
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords of one million rent-stabilized apartments across the city, has lodged a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court, arguing that the RGB acted outside the scope of the Rent Stabilization Law when it voted 7-0 to freeze rents on one-year leases.
“Nowhere does the law provide that the RGB is supposed to consider the subject of affordability when determining rent guidelines. Affordability is an issue that should be addressed not by the RGB, but through government-sponsored rent relief subsidies to tenants actually in need,” said Joseph Strasburg, the president of the RSA.
“The RGB, through the rent freeze, is inappropriately and unlawfully providing a rent subsidy to all tenants regardless of need. The rent freeze is not based on need, but rather on the perceived inability of tenants to pay, and to accommodate de Blasio’s political agenda of gaining favor with a large segment of the city’s voting block. “
Mayor Bill de Blasio
By Sabina Mollot
Mayor de Blasio has appointed two new members to the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, a new chair and a new owner’s representative.
The two appointments – new chair Kathleen Roberts, a former United States Magistrate Judge, and owner rep Mary Serafy – “have years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” the mayor said in a press release on Tuesday.
The Rent Guidelines Board is responsible for determining rent increases for around one million apartments in the city each year, last year issuing its first ever rent freeze for tenants signing one-year leases.
In an official statement, the mayor said, “Judge Kathleen Roberts has years of experience serving New Yorkers as a United States Magistrate Judge and Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal and Civil Divisions. Likewise, Ms. Serafy is well-versed in the field of housing, planning and development in both the public and private sectors.
“I’m confident that their addition to the Rent Guidelines Board will serve New Yorkers well – tenants and landlords alike – in establishing rent adjustments that are fair and grounded in real-life conditions in our neighborhoods.”
Interpreting what the RSA says
This group uses as their tag line: “We house New York.” And you have probably seen their ads on local TV stations in the area. They want Albany to end rent stabilization. They give as reasons: it would help New Yorkers; would allow for all sorts of upgrading of the housing stock; and in many ways be benevolent to the residents… Really?
I have asked my students what profession engages primarily in lying. The most frequent response has been “advertising.” And, I fully agree. Have you seen “Mad Men?”
Even though it was reported that increases in the costs of the real estate industry increased only one half of one percent during the recent year they want for all apartments to go free market. For Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village residents $2,000 rentals could go to over $5,000.
To rewrite the ad with honesty, they would have to say: “We along with lawyers, no matter how wealthy, will always want more and more!” We want 150 percent more in increases from you!
How many could afford anything close to $5K?
So, as they pay their lobbyists monies to give to the many crooked representatives in the bicameral legislatures perks and cash to gain their votes, who wins? Not the voters but the real estate folks who pay dues to be members of the RSA who claim that, “They house New York.”
Be sure and attend the next Tenants Association meeting and let your voices be heard.
David Chowes, PCV