OP-ED: Why renewal of Rent Law is not enough

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before  a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

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.

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