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.
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.
If landlords’ costs are inflated, roll back the rents
Re: Bill would change how RGB calculates landlords’ costs,” T&V, Jan. 29
To the Editor:
Okay, let’s see if I got this right. Since the 1990s the Giuliani/Bloomberg/de Blasio administration’s hand-picked, nine-member Rent Guidelines Boards have voted 5-4 in favor of rent increases every year. Now in 2015 we learn that the method used to determine and calculate these rent increases, “the Price Index of Operations Costs (PIOC), does not accurately reflect the costs and revenues accrued by landlords, causing unfair increases for tenants” and “overestimates landlord’s expenses by as much as one third and doesn’t measure income” at all.
Does this mean that for over 20 years the mayor-appointed RGBs gave unfair annual rent increases to landlords based on overestimating their expenses by 33 percent and not including their income into the calculation at all? If so, the only honest thing for the city to do would be to roll back those unfair rent increases for the past 20 years. But “Honesty is the best policy” is not the policy of New York politicians so another way to correct this injustice is needed.
I’m not surprised that it took over 20 years for one lone City Council member out of hundreds to uncover this devious trickery, make it public and introduce a bill that “would change how RGB calculates landlords’ costs.” What were the other hundred Council members doing for the past 20 years? Perhaps writing “Thank You!” notes to their constituents in the real estate industry for campaign contributions? Certainly not working to make the dream of affordable housing for rent-stabilized tenants a reality.
T&V reports that one RGB member cheering “What do we want? Rent freeze!” has “urged the mayor to pass the legislation because of the need for accurate data for rent stabilized tenants.” I say NO! We don’t need no stinkin’ band aids! What we need is major surgery. Since tenants have been paying more rent than legally required for over 20 years due to the city RGB’s devious, landlord-friendly methods of calculation, don’t you think tenants deserve something to make up for over 20 years of injustice?
I suggest that the mayor appoint an RGB that will be as friendly to tenants as it has been to landlords, one that will vote 5-4 for a rent freeze every year. That’s the only just thing to do, since I doubt the city is going to roll back those increases. Anything less would make this news just another joke about the various ways that New York politicians pay back their campaign contributors.
“Please don’t be offended if I preach to you awhile/Tears are out of place in eyes that were meant to smile.” Now join me in singing, “Look for the Sheldon Silver lining!”
John Cappelletti, ST
Tenants heckle the Rent Guidelines Board, accusing the public members of being landlord members during Monday’s vote at the Cooper Union. See the story in the Town & Village newspaper.
Photos by Sabina Mollot