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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Letters to the Editor, Jan. 5

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Hey, T&V, watch your language

Re: “Man drops pants, pees in view of kids across from PS 116,” T&V, Dec. 29, 2016

I was disturbed to read about a homeless man openly urinating in front of school children in the neighborhood this week.

But I was also disturbed to see you characterize this sick person as a “bum.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that label used by a reputable journalist.

Labels like that reduce the problem to two-dimensional, black and white thinking, them versus us, which does nothing to resolve the problem the community is facing, and only further marginalizes a desperate, untreated population.

I hope in the future you’ll commit to raising our understanding of complex problems in the community through language that more accurately reflects the true nature of the problem, and the people involved.

Name withheld, ST

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Letters to the Editor, Oct. 13

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

No option to downsize for the stabilized

Re: “800 ST/PCV residents who qualify for SCRIE/DRIE haven’t enrolled,” T&V, Sept. 29

Despite being many months away from being eligible, I write to commend all of the people involved in publicizing the DRIE and SCRIE rent exemption programs.

But first I want to mention something that’s troublesome. The New York Observer editorialized on behalf of an option that seniors in rent stabilized multi-bedroom apartments be able to downsize to rent stabilized studios, as my grandmother did decades ago, to save chunks of rent. Having one’s rent cut in half is better than having one’s rent frozen. But that is not an option either in PCV-ST or anywhere anymore.

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Landlord group files suit to stop city rent freeze

July14 RGB

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. “

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Letters to the Editor, December 3

 Dec3 Toon Trump balloon

Our future (as witnessed on the 14th St. bus)

Standing in the front of a crowded 14th Street bus on the way to my physical therapy, I looked with envy at all the teens and twenty-somethings packing the seats and thought: “This is the future of America.” But I wasn’t envious because they were young but because they were sitting.

Next to me on this bumpy bus, a frail lady clutched a pole for dear life and an elderly man with a cane struggled to keep his balance. Other white-haired passengers looked on as the laughing youngsters competed for attention, shouting and sharing their latest selfies with their techno-savvy friends who were also busy on their phones, texting or talking animatedly or just staring at something on the screen, oblivious to the reality around them.

I found myself imagining these youngsters as adults standing behind podiums at a televised debate for the President of the United States, competing to get the attention of the TV moderators so they could talk about their many virtues and their life’s goal of helping and caring for the poor and middle class, indeed for all humanity — a verbal selfie, if you will, albeit a bit Dorian Grayish.

When the bus stopped at Union Square, the Future of America finally got up and got off, leaving their warm seats.

Then the elderly and disabled people moved slowly and shakily to the newly-vacant seats, eased their tired bodies down and sighed with relief.
Ah, the future of America!

I hope I’m alive to watch those candidates in a future debate which I think will be exactly like the current debates, just with different faces. I could use a little comedy before my final ride where I’m sure to get a seat or, more exactly, a bed.

John Cappelletti, ST

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Tenants finally get that rent freeze

Tenants packed the Cooper Union auditorium on Monday for a brief vote that resulted in a historic rent freeze. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Tenants packed the Cooper Union auditorium on Monday for a brief vote that resulted in a historic rent freeze. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Rent Guidelines Board voted for a rent freeze for the first time since the board was established in 1969 on Monday night. However, the historic freeze is only a partial victory for tenants since it applies only to one-year leases. Two-year leases will see a two percent increase.

This was the first year that all nine members of the board were appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last year echoed tenant calls for a rent freeze. This year he refrained from making any comments on the rollback advocated for by tenants, although he praised the board’s decision following the vote.

“This was the right call,” de Blasio said. “We know tenants have been forced to make painful choices that pitted ever-rising rent against necessities like groceries, childcare and medical bills. Today’s decision means relief.”

Despite the jubilant atmosphere in the auditorium of the Cooper Union directly following the vote, some tenant advocates felt that a freeze only on one-year leases was not far enough.

“I knew they wouldn’t vote for zero and zero but in my mind, a rent freeze isn’t zero and two,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said. “Anyone who just signed a two-year lease (before the vote) won’t get a chance to take advantage of the zero percent increase. The fix was in as usual. The tenant members realized they couldn’t get anything better so they just settled for what passed.”

ST-PCV Tenants Association members attended the vote, including new president Susan Steinberg.

ST-PCV Tenants Association members attended the vote, including new president Susan Steinberg.

Susan Steinberg, who was elected as the new president for the STPCV Tenants Association last week, was also cautiously optimistic.

“It’s a partial victory,” she said. “It was certainly historic. Tenants will breathe easier tonight, but I just wish the increase for the two-year leases was a little less.”

Marietta Hawkes, a 38-year resident of Stuyvesant Town, was more disappointed by Albany’s failure to strengthen the rent laws than she was excited about the rent freeze.

“It’s the MCIs that really kill us,” she said. “I’ll never vote for Cuomo again. He and (Assembly Speaker Carl) Heastie are not sticking up for tenants.”

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh was enthusiastic about the vote, noting that the increase for two-year leases shouldn’t belittle the achievement of a zero percent increase on one-year leases.

“It’s a great victory for tenants,” Kavanagh said. “We had a tough setback last week. We fight these battles on many fronts and we’ll continue to fight for affordable housing in Stuyvesant Town and all over the city. It’s a big thing that tenants can renew their leases with no increases. I think it’s fair to say that we got a rent freeze.”

Tenant representatives Harvey Epstein and Sheila Garcia had originally proposed a rollback of up to -4 and -2 percent for one and two-year leases at the preliminary vote in April. RGB Chair Rachel Godsil had rejected that proposal, saying that there were landlords also struggling, but she also rejected the owner’s suggested increases of up to 4.2 and 6.7 percent.

Epstein and Garcia, who offered their proposal first on Monday night, seemed resigned that their final proposal of zero percent for one-year leases and two percent for two-year leases was the best they were going to get for the moment.

Tenants at the rally call for a rollback.

Tenants at the rally call for a rollback.

“The data supports a rent rollback but we don’t have the votes to make that happen tonight so I am proposing what I think is the best option,” Garcia said. “Think about what kind of city we want to live in.”

Tenants initially jeered at the proposal, reacting to the two percent increases for two-year leases. Epstein himself had criticized Godsil’s proposal at the preliminary vote that called for up to 3.5 percent increases for two-year leases, but in response to the negative reaction of the crowd at the final vote, explained that while it wasn’t what they had been hoping for, it was a small step in the right direction.

“Tonight let’s realize this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “Today we have the opportunity to have a historic rent freeze. There have been 46 years of landlords getting increases, of not following their responsibilities. We take a stand that a zero is a huge victory. If we don’t get a rollback, a freeze is a start so we’ll be back next year to get what we want.”

When asked to cast her vote, owner member Sara Williams Willard called the entire process “biased” and “myopic” before voting “absolutely resounding no.”

The mood in the auditorium was triumphant after six of the nine members cast “yes” votes, with tenants almost drowning out Godsil when it became clear that the vote was in favor of the tenant representatives’ proposal. Godsil called for a lull in the cheers long enough so she could provide an explanation for her affirmative vote.

“The majority of owners are faring well but half of rent stabilized tenants are considered to be rent burdened,” she said. “Rent stabilized housing remains unaffordable for majority of tenants living in these units. Increasing rent burdens lead to increasing numbers of people who can’t stay in their apartment while owners have several other sources of income. In light of this year’s current data, a zero percent increase is appropriate. The two percent increase is to protect owners for costs that may arise. We need a careful balance.”

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, was less enthusiastic about the vote. RSA President Joseph Strasburg criticized the decision, saying that the board was pandering to the mayor’s political agenda at the expense of tenants.

“It is despicable that politics prevailed over common sense. There is no basis for a rent freeze. Previous mayors let this independent board do what was necessary to preserve the city’s largest source of affordable housing,” Strasburg said. “Ironically, de Blasio’s mantra has been the preservation of affordable housing, but his support of a rent freeze, coupled with last year’s one percent rent increase, will have the opposite effect, spurring the deterioration and eventual eradication of affordable housing.”

The vote itself was surprisingly short, lasting only half an hour and only requiring the board members to vote once because the first proposal presented was the one that passed. Despite the quick vote, the meeting didn’t start until 7 p.m., an hour after the scheduled time. McKee theorized that this was because the board members were negotiating on a deal, although a representative from the RGB said that the delay was to ensure that everyone who wanted to get in had a chance to see the vote.

The event, attended by about 900 tenants, took place at the Great Hall as it typically does but due to construction taking place at the entrance of the building, the usual place for pre-vote demonstrations was relocated to a too-small spot on Cooper Square next to Bahr Che wine bar, resulting in the group spilling over into the street and cops having to nudge tenants back towards the sidewalk to keep them out of oncoming traffic.

Politics & Tidbits: Playing chess in Albany

By Steven Sanders,

former Assembly member, 74th District

Steven Sanders

Steven Sanders

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!

 

Tenants blast ‘framework’ deal for rent regulations

Assembly Member Carl Heastie, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (Photo via Governor Andrew Cuomo Flickr)

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.

The rough draft of the plan also includes an extension of the 421-a tax credit for developers for six months, though that could be increased to four years if developers and labor can come to an agreement on wages, funding for nonpublic schools to compensate them for mandated services and extending property tax caps along with a one-year extension of mayoral control of schools.

Cuomo, with Flanagan and Heastie at his side, said it was a “great deal” that had been accomplished despite all the “tumult” in Albany. This was in reference to the two former house leaders stepping down amidst scandal.

Cuomo said that they wouldn’t be getting into details until both houses were able to discuss the deal in conference. On the rent regulations, Cuomo called it “an unprecedented package that protects tenants.” He then noted that property taxes are the top reason people leave New York State.

On Flanagan and Heastie, Cuomo said, “These new leaders were brought it in at the seventh inning and handed the ball and told to pitch.” He added, “Both leaders stepped up and performed.”

Flanagan and Heastie then spoke on the topic of compromise, with Heastie saying, “We stake out our position early on and you try to work from there. We did the best we could in trying to get that done. It gives homeowners some relief, it gives renters some relief.”

Shortly after the announcement, Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, blasted the plan. “This is a disastrous deal,” he said, adding that he immediately emailed Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh to ask him to oppose it in conference.

“It really preserves the status quo for four years, which is exactly what we were hoping to avoid,” McKee added. “We’re going to lose 80,000 to 100,000 apartments over the next four years through various forms of deregulation.”

With Kavanagh and local State Senator Brad Hoyman both in conference as of Town & Village’s Wednesday afternoon press time, neither could be reached for comment.

McKee continued, “They raised the threshold of which an apartment can be deregulated from $2,500 to $2,700, which means nothing. There’s been some tinkering around with MCIs, but they’re going to leave MCIs as permanent increases compounded with the base rent. They’re going to make the increases somewhat less but it leaves the rent laws in tact with all of their weakness. It’s just unacceptable. It only renews mayoral control of schools for one year, so they city’s getting screwed and renters are getting screwed.”

The deal that was announced was different from a second Assembly bill that was introduced on Friday. The original bill had called for stronger tenant protections including repeal of vacancy decontrol, reform of preferential rents and MCIs so that MCIs would become temporary surcharges and for the reduction of vacancy bonuses from 20 percent to 7.5 percent.

But on Friday, the Assembly made a rather surprising move, pushing an amended version of the rent law bill that simply called for a straight extender for two years.

According to McKee, this was done with the purpose of throwing the governor and the Senate off guard — and it succeeded, at least for a while.

This revised, albeit unpassed Assembly bill, McKee explained, didn’t call for a continuation of 421-a. Meanwhile, he stressed that he has never been in favor of a straight extender, but didn’t expect that the bill would be passed without the continuation of 421-a.

This was after the Senate pushed its own rent regulations bill which would have called for the creation of a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures were the codification of the Tenant Protection Unit and stiffer penalties against landlords who harass tenants.

“I thought the Assembly bill on Friday was a brilliant tactical move, but now they’ve caved,” McKee said.

McKee, who’s quite possibly the most critical tenant activist when it comes to Cuomo, even got a call from the governor after the bill was introduced, with the governor insisting he was doing everything he could to strengthen the rent regulations.

In the phone call, which was first reported in Capital New York, Cuomo spoke to McKee “like we were old friends reconnecting,” McKee said.
The call, which he added, seemed “surreal,” opened with a cheery Cuomo asking him how he’d been. “I said, I’m fine and how about you?” It was the men’s first conversation with one another in four years when the rent laws last expired.

But, McKee, reflected, “He did not persuade me and I told him no one in the tenant movement believes he’s working on our behalf. If he wants stronger rent laws, he can introduce a bill. Who does he think he’s fooling? You couldn’t convince me that he couldn’t do this if he set his mind to it.”

Until the rent laws are settled formally, though, following conference, McKee advised tenants to continue to call the governor’s office. “Tell him, ‘If you don’t deliver on rent laws, I’ll never vote for you again.’”

Following strong statements recently made by Heastie about how he wouldn’t compromise on getting stronger rent laws, McKee added, “I can’t believe Heastie agreed to this. I don’t have any delusions about what’s going to happen (in both houses.) Most of them are sheep.”

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association was also left fuming about the deal, which they alerted neighbors to in an email.

Last week, Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association, attended numerous rent law rallies along with neighbors. At one, outside a fundraiser for Cuomo at the Plaza, tenants had shared a chuckle about the fact that while the legislature was incapable of passing the rent laws, other bills, like one naming the wood frog as the state’s official amphibian, got through.

“We were all talking about the important bill that passed about the state amphibian,” said Steinberg. “Clearly frogs have it over tenants.”

On Tuesday, though, she wasn’t laughing.
“This is no victory,” said Steinberg. “It’s very discouraging that with all the hard work we put in, that this is how it ends up. He’s not as interested in the people who vote for him as he is in his real estate development friends.”

In particular she was unimpressed by the MCI revisions. “We’re still going to have to pay for it the rest of our lives,” she said.

City Council Housing Committee Chair Jumaane Williams also issued a statement about the deal, expressing his concern about tenants paying preferential rent.

“Due to unresolved loopholes with preferential rent, estimates show that up to 250,000 tenants could see their rent go up by thousands of dollars, regardless of what the Rent Guidelines Board says and without advance notice,” he said.

Albany extends Rent Stabilization Laws for five days

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Anne Greenberg, Kirstin Aadahl and Margaret Salacan of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Margaret Salacan, Anne Greenberg and Kirstin Aadahl, Margaret Salacan and a resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

By Sabina Mollot

Days after the deadline to renew the Rent Stabilization Laws, with no resolution in sight, the state legislature worked to extend the laws for another five days.

In a joint statement, Albany’s three men in a room, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, confirmed the governor’s signing of the bill, and claimed to be “moving in a positive direction toward a resolution.”

But rather than offer any detail, the statement then went on to tout the legislature’s passage of unrelated bills such as protections against sexual assault on college campuses and investments in infrastructure.

Heastie, however, issued a statement of his own, stressing that the Assembly wouldn’t bend on its efforts to win stronger protections for tenants.

“We have agreed on a short term extender bill with the Governor and the Senate which will allow for more time to come to a final agreement,” said Heastie. “But one thing is clear – the Assembly Majority will not compromise its principles and agree to a package that does not provide critical rent protections for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws.”

The rent law legislation the Democrat-controlled Assembly hopes to pass is wildly different from the package put forth more recently by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate hopes to create a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures are codifying the Tenant Protection Unit and imposing stiffer penalties on landlords who harass tenants. The Assembly hopes to repeal vacancy decontrol, reform preferential rents, MCIs (major capital improvements) and IAIs (individual apartment improvements) and lower vacancy bonuses.

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Tenants and owners take their case to RGB

Stuyvesant Town residents sit in the audience at the hearing. On the right is Marietta Hawkes, a 38-year resident who gave testimony. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town residents sit in the audience at the hearing. On the right is Marietta Hawkes, a 38-year resident who gave testimony. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With the Rent Guidelines Board set to decide on the rent increases for over one million rent stabilized apartments in the city on June 24, tenants from around the city went before the board on Monday, June 8 to ask for a rent freeze or even a rollback. Numerous landlords, mainly those owning small buildings, also testified to ask for higher rents and even supplemental increases for tenants who remain in their buildings for many years. A few City Council members also chimed in to say their constituents are being priced out of their neighborhoods and in some cases harassed by landlords who want to oust them and deregulate their apartments.

The public hearing, held at CUNY’s Graduate Center on 34th Street was one of four taking place around the city. The next and final one before the vote will take place on June 18 from 5-8 p.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

One of the first speakers was a senior from Stuyvesant Town named Marietta Hawkes, who, after 38 years of living in the complex, is paying 45 percent of her income in rent, including three major capital improvement (MCI) increases.

“Due to these increases, I have had to cut back on food and doctor visits,” said Hawkes. She added that other actions by owner CWCapital have had taken a toll on her heath.

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Rent regs expire with no hint of progress in Albany

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.

The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.

Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.

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Letter from CR on rent laws

The following letter has been distributed by CompassRock to Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village residents concerning the expiration of the rent laws:

Dear Residents,

As you may know, the Rent Stabilization Law (“RSL”) is set to expire at midnight tonight, June 15, 2015 and as of this morning no deal has been reached in Albany to extend the RSL. As a reminder, all units in Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are subject to Rent Stabilization.

We appreciate that the potential expiration of the RSL may be stressful for some residents and can raise questions about what will happen without the protections of the Law. We want to assure our residents that you have nothing to worry about at PCVST. All leases that are currently in place will remain in full force and effect even if the Law expires tonight. Furthermore, PCVST will continue to adhere to the current rules in place (even if the Law expires) until Albany acts.

We, like you, are watching developments in Albany closely and waiting for a resolution. Unfortunately, we don’t have any additional information to share about what the final resolution may look like or when it will occur. We will act in accordance with the new law as soon as it is passed.

Thank you,
PCVST Management

East 13th St. tenants accusing landlord of harassment

Residents demonstrated outside their building last Thursday to protest aggressive buyout tactics and other ways they say the landlord is harassing them. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Residents demonstrated outside their building last Thursday to protest aggressive buyout tactics and other ways they say the landlord is harassing them. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents at 444 East 13th Street have been without cooking gas and hot water for over a month, but, as the rent-stabilized tenants in the building said during a protest on Thursday, that’s not their only concern.

The problems with their gas, they said, are just one of many that tenants see as harassment aimed at driving them out of their long-time homes.

Stephanie Rudolph, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center, represents the tenants and filed a lawsuit on their behalf last Friday, also requesting – and getting — an injunction, which prohibits any contact by the owners.

There are currently nine apartments in the building that are occupied out of 15 and Raphael Toledano, who bought the building at the beginning of this year, has been using relocation specialists who’ve been offering tenants buyouts from $30,000 to $60,000.

Rudolph had also previously sent the management company a cease and desist order on May 15, telling them to stop contacting tenants about surrendering their apartments and she said that not long after, tenants were showered with gifts from the management company with an apology about the lack of gas in the building.

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